- Park University faces financial strains from declining enrollment, leading to faculty layoffs, program cuts and campus closures.
- The university prioritizes majors in high-demand fields but receives criticism for lack of transparency.
- Students, organized as All Against Park University, express concerns about the impact on their education.
Park University is laying off faculty, cutting programs and closing campuses in an attempt to balance its budget.
In an emailed statement, the private Parkville-based school said it planned to cut 16 faculty positions in areas with low enrollment or where Park believes reducing the number of faculty members won’t harm the program.
It’s continuing to hire faculty in high-demand areas such as information systems and business analysis and cybersecurity.
The university also said it will eliminate three graduate degree programs — master of social work, master of arts in national security studies and master of education in language and literacy — but will allow current students to complete their studies.
Several bachelor’s degree concentrations, a graduate certificate program, an undergraduate certificate program and seven minors will phase out, Brad Biles, director of communications and public relations, wrote in an email. The bachelor of science in business administration degree with a major in economics will also end, he said, but some economics courses will continue as a part of other programs.
Biles, who answered several follow-up questions over email, declined to say which of its 39 campuses are closing because the university is still notifying students at those campuses.
A map available on the Park University website as of Nov. 17 shows only 24 campuses in 16 states. Two Missouri campuses, Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base, are among those missing compared to an archived version from Sept. 3 that lists all 39 campuses in 21 states.
None of the Kansas City-area campuses is slated to close, Biles said, including the main campus in Parkville and those in Lenexa, Independence and Kansas City.
The statement he provided from the university “will be Park’s only statement on this issue. Park’s president and other senior leadership (including faculty leadership) will not be available for interviews,” he wrote. “News media are not allowed on campus to conduct interviews without authorization.”
One student majoring in English and education said students want more information about how changes will affect them.
The student, who asked that her name not be shared because she feared losing her campus job, said she was representing a collective called All Against Park University. She said it’s a group of about 40 students that formed to press administrators for more information about the cutbacks.
Students have received emails about changes to their own degree programs, the student said. But she said they want to know more about departing faculty, to receive more advance notice of changes and to get a more comprehensive overview of which programs and campuses will be hit by cuts.
“Many students here are even considering leaving and going to a new school, because they don’t feel like their education should suffer for the price they’re paying,” the student said.
In one email shared with The Beacon, the registrar’s office informed a student that courses in their major concentration would likely take place online during the 2024-25 school year before the program is fully eliminated.
Most of the faculty layoffs will take effect in mid-2024, the university’s statement said. But students in programs that are closing may still be finishing their degrees as late as summer 2025 for master’s and certificate programs and summer 2027 for bachelor’s degrees, Biles wrote.
“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Park has offered limited to zero face-to-face classes at the campuses that are closing,” Biles said in an emailed response to a follow-up question. “Most of the students enrolled through these campuses have been taking their classes either online or via Pirate Patch (where Park students meet in a classroom at the distance learning center, but the instructor is teaching remotely).”
Many of the 39 campuses, spread throughout the country, are affiliated with military bases. About 45% of Park University students are on active military duty or are veterans, their spouses or dependents, according to a fall 2023 fact sheet.
Why cuts are happening
In its statement, Park University attributed the changes to nationwide drops in enrollment since the COVID-19 pandemic and tougher competition among colleges for a smaller pool of prospective students.
Numbers from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development show that Park’s enrollment dropped more than 30% between fall 2019 and fall 2022. Fall 2023 numbers are not yet included in the chart.
In fall 2022, the university had about 7,500 students, but less than 4,500 full-time equivalent students.
In fall 2023, according to a university fact sheet, Park had about 6,600 students and less than 4,400 full-time equivalent students. The university had 104 full-time faculty members and more than 600 adjunct faculty.
In 2022 and 2023, the majority of student credit hours were earned online, with the most popular programs including business, science, English, psychology and computer science.
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