APU to close global studies major and High Sierra Semester and rework other Study Away programs

Azusa Pacific will close both the global studies major and several long-term Study Away Programs, including the High Sierra semester. The global studies major will be doing a “teach-out,” allowing current students to complete the major, while the High Sierra semester will close at the end of this Fall 2018 semester.

This comes as a result of the university’s fiscal shortfall and declining enrollment in each of the programs.

Jennifer Walsh, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) said that the number of global studies majors in the past four years dropped from 108 in Fall 2013 to just 37 in Fall 2017. Walsh said that programs that consistently have fewer than 10 new students per year, or fewer than 40 students total, are watched closely because it is difficult for the program to recover enough revenue to offset the instructional costs required to offer major-related courses.

“The decision to close any major is never easy, but the long history of transformation that has been associated with this particular degree makes this decision particularly difficult. However, with declining student interest and increasing costs…closing the major and redirecting resources to other majors seemed the wisest and most prudential thing to do,” Walsh said. “APU is committed to minimizing the impact on students by providing the necessary courses for current majors so that they can graduate with their intended major.”

In addition to this, Walsh said, the global studies minor, which includes the L.A. Term semester-away program, will remain. Former faculty will teach in the global studies minor program and will lend their expertise to general education courses, sociology electives, and other courses.

“We are exploring the possibility of a new major that has similar learning outcomes as the global studies major, but without the high costs associated with the Global Learning Term semester-away program,” Walsh said. “A decision to move forward with a new major will be considered later this fall after consultation with program faculty, our market research representatives, our undergraduate admissions and enrollment officers, and the Academic Cabinet.”

Vice Provost Vicky Bowden, DNSc, said the administration was concerned about sustainability for Study Away programs at the Center for Global Learning Engagement (CGLE).

“In situations like these, you need to look at high cost initiatives and ask yourself whether or not this is financially sustainable,” Bowden said.

With the facility expenses, the cost of full-time faculty room and board, and the cost to run High Sierra per semester is approximately $900,000. During the last academic year, the program had a total of 66 students. This semester, there are only 14 students at the location.

“Spending that amount of resources on programs with such few students takes away from things we’re able to do on campus for majors that have more students,” Bowden said. “For High Sierra, we already have a small team exploring other outdoor wilderness learning opportunities, and we’re looking into providing even more opportunities for short-term Study Away. ”

Bowden said the CGLE is focusing on developing more sustainable, short-term Study Away programs that would be considered a part of a class. The trips would take place over Thanksgiving or Spring break and count as credit hours.

David Williams, Ph.D., executive director and chair of the High Sierra Semester, spoke about the impact he always hoped High Sierra would leave on students.

“The High Sierra staff and faculty, both present and past, have been utterly overwhelmed at the response of our alumni to the closure of the program,” Williams said. “The hope of High Sierra was always this: if you build a Christ-centered community with students, make them read hard books and do hard things with them in the mountains, then that work will come to fruition.”

Savannah Lawrence, senior journalism major, reflected on her experience at High Sierra.

“High Sierra made an impact in my life through academics, outdoor adventures, Christ-centered conversations and through relationships with my cohort,” Lawrence said. “Finding out that High Sierra [was] ending was sad to hear, because I [know] that there are so many people…  that would benefit from the program. High Sierra has played a vital role in my spiritual journey and has changed my outlook on life itself. The High Sierra program will be in alumni, faculty, and the frequent visitor’s hearts forever.”

Williams said seeing  former High Sierra students respond to the legacy that High Sierra left is encouraging to him as an educator.

“To see so many students pay tribute…to how they were shaped by the power of Christian community, the impact of the liberal arts and the joy of doing hard things in the mountains is to experience a kind of gratitude that we will never, as those who tried to care for them, be able to repay,” he said.