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Undergraduate Education

North Carolina college discontinues its chemistry major

Decision by Warren Wilson College resulted from a planning process that factored in class enrollment and student interest

by Krystal Vasquez
November 21, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 39


A student walking along a path on the Warren Wilson College campus.
Credit: Warren Wilson College
A student walking along a path on the Warren Wilson College campus.

Warren Wilson College, a liberal arts college in North Carolina, will eliminate its chemistry major next academic year. In addition, the college will discontinue majors in math, philosophy, history and political science, and global studies.

The cuts are the result of a “strategic planning process” spearheaded by the college’s new president, Damián Fernández. After starting in June, Fernández tasked the college with streamlining its academic portfolio to “reduce expenses in areas where we felt like that was necessary,” says Jay Roberts, the college’s provost.

Starting in fall 2024, Warren Wilson will no longer admit incoming students into the five majors. Students who are currently pursuing the majors will be offered the courses they need to graduate, Roberts says.

Eventually, however, the college intends to cut some of the more advanced courses that are offered as a part of the discontinued majors. For example, Langdon Martin, chair of Warren Wilson’s chemistry department, suspects that the school’s quantum chemistry class will be on the chopping block “since it’s been a course that hasn’t had much enrollment beyond chemists.”

Martin, who was not involved in the school’s decision, says the faculty have known for a few months that Warren Wilson intended to close some of its majors. But they didn’t know which ones.

“That was sort of the purview of the provost and the president,” Martin says. The two also received input from Warren Wilson’s academic planning committee, which is composed of five elected faculty members, each representing one of the college’s divisions.

The committee compared trends in class enrollment and student interest in each major over 3 to 5 years. Between the biochemistry and chemistry majors, “we graduate about 6 or 7 students per year, with a very high standard deviation,” Martin says. Regarding class size, “we’ve had a lot of upper-level courses with small enrollments. That didn’t count in our favor, unfortunately.”

Martin and the rest of the faculty were notified of the school’s decision in October. Although Martin says he’s sad that the school is getting rid of its chemistry major, he was relieved to learn that students can still major in biochemistry. “So there’s still a chemistry-centric major that students will have the opportunity to take,” he says.

Also, Warren Wilson’s chemistry department will continue serving students in other majors, and Martin is optimistic that it will adapt. “I’m happy to teach chemistry to whoever is willing to learn it, whoever’s interested to learn it, whoever is going to use it in their career.”



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