The Dworak-Peck School of Social Work may be forced to lay off nearly half its staff and most of its part-time employees amid a financial crisis caused by a new online degree programs launched in 2010, according to the Los Angeles Times. The programs, designed to boost tuition revenue, instead caused the school to drop in U.S. News and World Report rankings and lose money.
“We continue to believe that online master’s and professional doctoral programs serve an important role in higher education,” Provost Michael Quick said in a statement to the Daily Trojan.
According to the Times, the online master’s degree programs nearly quadrupled the size of the student body from 900 in 2010 to 3,500 in 2016. However, increased enrollment led to greater expenses, such as paying faculty and supplementing tutoring services. The digital learning platform which the University uses for the program, 2U, also significantly cut into the school’s revenue — raking in 60% of the money made from the online programs.
Cheaper competitors cut into the school’s applicant pool and, as a result, the school began admitting less qualified students. Once among the top ten social work schools, according to the U.S. News & World Report ranking, the school now occupies the 25th spot.
The school’s requisite 3.0 grade-point average was not upheld, as the school became financially dependent on admitting students in order to fill classes and generate revenue. According to the Times, 40% of entering students were conditional admits, failing to meet GPA standards and other requirements.
“Changes in graduate enrollment patterns are inevitable,” said Quick, who will leave the University June 30. “All schools are required to submit balanced budgets each year and those budgets can fluctuate based on enrollments. We are proud of our social work school. These adjustments will ensure the school is on solid footing as it seeks its next dean.”
A University committee recommended laying off 45% of non-teaching staff, cutting study abroad and international programs and eliminating adjunct professor and mid-level dean positions in response to the school’s budget deficit over two years, the Times reported. Already implemented plans include requiring full-time faculty to teach heavier course loads at the same salary.
Although the University has not made the fiscal details of the crisis public, accountants hired to assess the school’s financial state predicted the budget deficit would reach $40 million by 2020 if budget cuts were not implemented, the Times reported. However, a University spokesperson told the Times the deficit was closer to $10 million.
The school is currently leading efforts in an attempt to fix the school’s admission standards and reputation.