St. Cloud State To Eliminate Philosophy & Other Programs


St. Cloud State University will cease offering its students the opportunity to major in philosophy, reports the Star Tribune.

The university will also be cutting theater, nuclear medicine technology, real estate and insurance programs at the undergraduate level, and the marriage and family therapy program at the graduate level.

The school’s administration has led the university to the point at which it is facing an $18.3 million deficit in the upcoming year, yet no administration members appear to be losing their job as a result of this.

Instead, 23 faculty and 14 staff will be laid off. It has not yet been reported if any of these layoffs are of philosophy faculty.

Current majors will be able to finish their programs.

(via John Collins)

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Scott
1 year ago

Weird how this story doesn’t end up generating 500 comments, given how so many people seem so concerned with *justice* and the health of philosophy as a discipline. I hope that the faculty and staff find secure employment quickly. It’s pretty heartbreaking seeing the ratio of programs cut:programs started.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Scott
1 year ago

Folk probably care, but don’t have much to say. I imagine that we are largely agreed that this is a bad thing and that the primary cause for falling philosophy enrollments is student concerns about future wages.
What can we do apart from campaigning for more financial support for students? We can try to interest kids in philosophy before they arrive in college. We can ask if there’s any way to reduce the bad reputation academia has with ordinary people. Maybe we can offer students more attractive courses if we can tap into their interests.

Ryan
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 year ago

Agreed. And we can also build strong University worker unions that can protect their members’ jobs with strikes if necessary.

Connecting academic labor unions with the labor movement generally by lending our support to other worker movements would also go a long way with “reducing the bad reputation academia has with ordinary people.”

David Wallace
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 year ago

I don’t know anything in detail about St. Cloud State, but from what’s publicly available, I very much doubt that ‘the primary cause for falling philosophy enrollments is student concerns about future wages.’ In Fall 2017, St. Cloud State had 9,000 enrolled full-time undergraduates. In Fall 2022, it had 5,000. Financially speaking that’s an existential-scale disaster for the university. (Without prejudice as to whether they had better ways to respond to that disaster.)

(Source for numbers: https://www.stcloudstate.edu/air/reports/default.aspx )

Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I’m not sure that doubt, so strongly expressed, is well-placed. This isn’t a backhanded claim that it’s not well-placed. I just don’t see the basis for the strength of the doubt.

Do we have reason to rule out that the falling rates of enrollment at St. Cloud State aren’t mediated by concerns (right or wrong) about the relative worth of a college education (whether in philosophy or not) across the state of Minnesota, or across the nation? A quick look over the data in the first link below shows that undergraduate enrollments in the state of Minnesota as a whole have dropped from around 310,000 in 2010 to around 210,000 in 2021, with a drop of over 35,000 students from 2017 to 2021. Maybe the explanation for the drop in philosophy enrollments at St. Cloud State isn’t going to come by way of an explanation for that more general phenomenon, but I’m not sure why we shouldn’t think it might. And if it might, I don’t see why we have good reason to rule out that the general drop in enrollment across the state isn’t best explained by concerns (again, right or wrong) over the value of higher education today.

There appears to have been an uptake in enrollments in Minnesota schools from around 2005 though the economic crash of 2008 that tapered off in 2010 and has been declining at a steady rate since. When I was looking at either PhD study or a job in public policy in 2007/8, the conventional wisdom was that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend a few years more in school until the economy came back. But given the way things are today, isn’t one plausible explanation for those changes over the last few years a general concern among would-be students about the value of a college education, and which happened to hit St. Cloud State harder than, say, the University of Wisconsin, which according to the second link below, has had an enrollment across all campuses at 67,000 +/-2000 since 2011/12?

I should say that none of this is meant to make light of the situation the faculty at St. Cloud State are in. I’m just not sure whether we should be so quick to dismiss concerns over perceptions about the value of higher education today.

http://www.ohe.state.mn.us/sPages/student_enroll_data.cfm#:~:text=Over%20400%2C000%20students%20are%20enrolled,trends%20and%20student%20characteristic%20data.&text=The%20decline%20in%20undergraduate%20enrollment,during%20the%20COVID%2D19%20pandemic.

https://idr.umn.edu/reports-by-topic-enrollment/enrollments

David Wallace
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 year ago

I took Hey Nonny Mouse to be making a point about enrollment choices within the fixed pool of Sr Cloud State undergrads; I may have misunderstood.

As for overall enrollment numbers, I don’t know anything about Minnesota in particular. But enrollments are down nationwide, and absolutely I’d expect that to be highly unevenly distributed (as an extreme example to make the point: Harvard is not going to have any trouble making its enrollment targets even if overall enrollments decrease sharply).

Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Okay. And perhaps I’m not getting your point. But looking just at philosophy undergraduates as a proportion of the pool of undergraduates at St. Cloud State, I don’t see why we have good reason to doubt that concerns over the value of philosophy (again, right or wrong) aren’t the best explanation for the drop in enrollments in philosophy. Particularly if we can’t rule out that the best explanation for the drop in enrollments across the board is would-be student concerns over the value of higher education today. Sorry if I’m misunderstanding you, but I still don’t see why we should very much doubt what was suggested.

David Wallace
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 year ago

OK, I’m not being clear. Here’s alI I meant:

  • total undergrad numbers have fallen almost 50% at St. Cloud State in the last 5 years, according to their own published data
  • So we would expect enrollments in philosophy to have dropped almost 50% over that time, even if philosophy remains as popular among undergraduates as before the drop.
  • I don’t know how much philosophy enrollments have fallen, but mathematically they would have to have fallen virtually to zero in order for the leading cause of the decrease to be philosophy-specific. (I don’t actually know if philosophy enrollments have fallen at all as a fraction of overall enrollments; that data isn’t obviously available.)

Is the decrease in St.Cloud State overall enrollments a consequence of the overall decrease in Minnesota enrollments? Almost certainly. Is the latter because of overall student concerns about the value of higher education? Maybe, I don’t know. (I’d want to see how the actual number of 18-25 year olds in Minnesota has changed over that period.) But even if so, there’s a big difference between ‘enrollments are down because students don’t value philosophy’ (which one can try to address by, e.g., better in-university course design and marketing) and ‘enrollments are down because fewer 18-25 year olds see the value of a university degree’, which has different (and more challenging) solutions.

My main reason for the original comment was just to get the overall massive decrease in St Cloud State undergrad numbers into the discussion. It seems critical to what’s going on there, but didn’t get mentioned in the OP.

David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I should have said ‘full-time undergraduates’, incidentally. There are probably further issues involving how one makes philosophy attractive to the increasing number of part-time undergraduates.

Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Is the decrease in St.Cloud State overall enrollments a consequence of the overall decrease in Minnesota enrollments? Almost certainly. Is the latter because of overall student concerns about the value of higher education? Maybe, I don’t know. 

Okay, thanks, this is helpful. I took you to be saying we had good reason either to doubt that second explanation, or to doubt it’s applicability to philosophy. And my (admittedly spotty) survey of the terrain suggests both that people are much less sanguine about the value of higher education since the economic crash of 2008, and that philosophy hasn’t been immune to that shift in perception (in a non-factive sense of “perception”). So I’m glad to clear that up, and I’ll continue operating with the defeasible supposition that we’re facing a crisis in perceived value for both higher education in general and philosophy in particular.

Matt L
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 year ago

I wondered if the decline at St. Cloud State might have to do with declining numbers of high school graduates over the relevant years, but at least according to this site, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_219.20.asp the number of Minnesota high school graduates (which I am assuming is the most relevant for the school) has been fairly consistent over the relevant period, or slightly growing over-all. I don’t know what that tells us about the right positive view to take, but it at least seems to mostly eliminate the idea that the real issue is a decline in the relevant high school graduate population.

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Matt L
1 year ago

Thanks, Matt. I’m not surprised that a contraction in high school graduates probably isn’t the source of the problem, given that primary and secondary education is mandated by law in most places. Higher education isn’t, so it’s important that we be able to offer students something of value if we’re to keep the enrollments up. I worry that whereas a college degree was viewed as a means for social and personal betterment in previous generations, it just isn’t perceived to offer that value to students today; at least, not outside of specialized disciplines whose practitioners require domain-specific knowledge and training.

It’s also possible that the expansion of higher education since the second world war was driven by unsustainable (or at least unsustained) forces, and that the contraction we’re seeing now is a corrective. That would be a shame, as I think we can all agree that there’s something inherently valuable in the kind of study that characterizes higher education (at least as an ideal). It benefits a country’s citizens to take advantage of that opportunity. The question is, will we be able to communicate this value in a way that leads people to seek higher education as a source for satisfying it? Or will people look to sources outside of academia to fill that need?

I just learned about an organization in Helena, Montana called Merlin CCC, run by Marisa Diaz-Waian, who has an M.A. in philosophy. They host regular philosophically themed gatherings and community outings. I look forward to seeing what they’re up to when I go back home this summer. Interesting times!

David Wallace
Reply to  Preston Stovall
1 year ago

Worth noting that there are some demographic effects to allow for (net migration out of some states, uneven distribution of birthrate) and they’re going to get sharply worse in next few years as the 2008 decline in the birthrate reaches 18. There is a good article at Vox here: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/23428166/college-enrollment-population-education-crash

Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Thanks. This was a good read, if depressing. The similarities between Shippensburg University and St. Cloud State University are striking: both were created as normal schools (colleges that trained teachers), the former in 1871 and the latter in 1869. And similar to St. Cloud, according to the article student enrollments at Shippensburg dropped from 8,326 in 2010/11 to 5,668 last year.

In four years, the number of students graduating from high schools across the country will begin a sudden and precipitous decline, due to a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession. Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period. But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping, and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it “the enrollment cliff.”

Among the small number of elite colleges and research universities — think the Princetons and the Penn States — the cliff will be no big deal. These institutions have their pick of applicants and can easily keep classes full.

For everyone else, the consequences could be dire. In some places, the crisis has already begun. College enrollment began slowly receding after the millennial enrollment wave peaked in 2010, particularly in regions that were already experiencing below-average birth rates while simultaneously losing population to out-migration. Starved of students and the tuition revenue they bring, small private colleges in New England have begun to blink off the map. Regional public universities like Ship are enduring painful layoffs and consolidation.

The timing is terrible. Trade policy, de-unionization, corporate consolidation, and substance abuse have already ravaged countless communities, particularly in the post-industrial Northeast and Midwest. In many cases, colleges have been one of the only places that provide good jobs in their communities, offer educational opportunities for locals, and have strong enough roots to stay planted. The enrollment cliff means they might soon dry up and blow away.

This trend will accelerate the winner-take-all dynamic of geographic consolidation that is already upending American politics. College-educated Democrats will increasingly congregate in cities and coastal areas, leaving people without degrees in rural areas and towns. For students who attend less-selective colleges and universities near where they grew up — that is, most college students — the enrollment cliff means fewer options for going to college in person, or none at all.

The empty factories and abandoned shopping malls littering the American landscape may soon be joined by ghost colleges, victims of an existential struggle for reinvention, waged against a ticking clock of shrinking student bodies, coming soon to a town near you.

David N. Tostenson
11 months ago

As an alumnus of the SCSU philosophy program, I’m deeply saddened and disturbed by this news. If I hadn’t been lured into philosophy at St. Cloud, I don’t know where I’d be today, but I would definitely have missed my calling. As for the university itself, I doubt they’ll ever recover from this self-inflicted injury, despite their administration’s Orwellian optimism. Certainly I couldn’t recommend anyone work for or attend such a place. They’re just leaning into the death spiral.