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What is the academic reimagining ?

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Academic Reimagining is a topic on many Principian’s minds. But what is the reimagining, and how will it affect students? Aside from an October email and Watercooler and mention of a town hall, there’s been little communication, specifically to students, about the reimagining process, mostly because it’s still being planned. The process could see Prin’s current offering of 28 majors reduced to around five “centers” that would have an estimated three to four “degree-granting programs” within each. By that measure, Prin could have anywhere between 15 and 24 majors. Principia’s goal is to use its resources efficiently and focus on what will be best for students, according to administrators.

So, how did this come about? 

All programs at Principia are reviewed by an external commission every five to seven years. The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) last reviewed Principia as a whole in 2016. According to the Interim Dean of Academics Dr. Brian Roberts, in its 2016 report, the HLC recommended that Prin “take a look at the scale and scope of [its] academic offerings, particularly given enrollment.” Enrollment has decreased since the report, but the number of majors has increased from 26 to 28. While Prin is working to increase student enrollment, said Roberts, “a more limited curriculum is needed.”

According to Roberts, as of fall 2023, 14 majors had fewer than 10 students declared, and seven majors had fewer than five students. “We’re maintaining a lot for [disciplines] that not many students are majoring in,” Roberts said. “It’s not the best use of faculty resources, and it’s not the best structure for students either,” he said. The reimagining aims to combat low enrollment. The reduced number of majors offered to students under the reimagining is set to be designed to suit a student body of around 500, he said.   

If Prin’s population rises above this threshold, the curriculum will change to suit it. While Roberts is optimistic, reaching this number of students might take longer than expected. The curriculum reimagining will be a process of constant assessment, adapting indefinitely to suit Prin’s changing circumstances, Roberts said. 

What are students worried about?

According to the email sent to current students in October 2023, “current students who have already declared a major will be supported in completing their major at Principia.” The email also said that “current students who have not yet declared a major may declare an existing major.” In addition, “new first-time freshmen who enroll at Principia College in Fall 2024 and Spring 2025 will be required to wait until Fall 2025 to declare a major,” the message said.

Many students say they are worried that the reimagining will mean they won’t be able to continue with their current majors. But Roberts guaranteed that every current student declared or soon-to-declare, will be allowed to complete their degree in the major they chose, whether it’s offered in the new program or not. What’s less clear is whether students will be able to take the specific classes they planned to. Roberts said Principia will “be maintaining the courses that are needed for students to complete [already declared majors].” So, he said, whether certain classes are kept in the reimagining or not, Prin will ensure that students who have declared a major before the reimaging is finalized in fall 2025 will be able to complete their studies. “We will see people through, wherever they are,” said Roberts.

Another concern some students have is that they won’t have as much choice when it comes to course selection. The new courses may be broader and there might not be as many of them. “There will be more limited options for [new] students,” said Roberts. But Principia believes, according to Roberts, that the new courses will “emphasize multidisciplinarity and efficiency, have a sense of strong academic coherence and vibrancy, and maximize the use of faculty resources.” Roberts hopes there will be fewer small classes and fewer courses canceled due to under-enrollment. 

Other students are worried that the new, more multi-disciplinary courses offered in the reimagining won’t be as appealing to graduate schools and employers. Roberts said that Principia’s new programs “would prepare students for careers in certain fields and perhaps give them even more integrated skills that they’ll need for specific fields.” Principia doesn’t want programs unrecognizable to employers or graduate schools, Roberts said.

What will the programs look like?

Nobody knows yet, according to professors and Roberts. The administration wants the new programs to be broader and more varied to better use Principia’s resources. Roberts predicts that this will make them more forward-looking and multi-disciplinary. He stressed that these programs are being intentionally designed to prepare students for future enrollment and employment opportunities. “Principia is really thinking about students in this process,” Roberts said.

The academic dean said a core goal of the reimagining is to give students a better college experience, and it’s designed with them in mind. Roberts offered to host a town hall meeting, where students would be able to talk with him directly about the changes. “I want students to feel informed,” he said. The new centers are expected to be announced in early April, and the reimagining process is due to begin fall of 2025. More information about the academic reimagining can be found in the email sent by the academic dean on Oct. 20, 2023. 

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