by James A. Bacon
Once upon a time, the University of Virginia was known for the excellence of its English Department — one of the most highly regarded in the country. Perhaps it still is. But you wouldn’t know it from the decline in the number of students earning B.A. and graduate degrees.
The number of degrees awarded has declined by almost half — from 404 in the 1999-2000 academic year to 210 in the 2021-22 year, according data contained in the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia database.
To be sure, the precipitous decline in the number of students studying English at UVa reflects a national phenomenon. “During the past decade, the study of English and history at the collegiate level has fallen by a full third. Humanities enrollment in the United States has declined over all by seventeen per cent,” writes The New Yorker in “The End of the English Major.”
The article explores many potential causes. Declining funding for the humanities. The rise of social media and the diminution of of attention spans. The surging cost of a college degree and practical decisions by students to master disciplines with a greater financial payoff. Continue reading
Alex Hernandez, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Virginia.
by James A. Bacon
Eight years ago the forced resignation of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan embroiled Virginia’s flagship university in a controversy that played out nationally. Rector Helen E. Dragas saw an “existential threat to the greatness of UVa” from demographic, financial and technological forces reshaping the higher-education landscape. The most controversial of these was the emergence of online learning. Sullivan, Dragas said, had not moved aggressively enough to incorporate online learning into UVa’s strategic planning. In the turmoil that followed, Sullivan carried the day. She was reinstated as president and remained until replaced by Jim Ryan in 2018.
But the challenge of online learning did not go away. While change has not come as rapidly as some predicted, online learning has steadily gained higher-ed market share in the years since. Following Sullivan’s philosophy of incremental change, UVa remained committed to the traditional model of classroom teaching but experimented with online learning on the margins. Then, boom, along came the COVID-19 epidemic. Suddenly, every university in the country, including UVa, was compelled to convert in-person classes to an online format.
COVID has shifted the conversation dramatically. Continue reading