Teach-Outs for Closing Programs and Institutions

Teach-Outs for Closing Programs and Institutions
Patricia E. Salkin, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Touro University

Lately, a week hardly goes by without news of another institution announcing plans to close programs or departments, and even entire colleges and universities planning to shut down.  According to University Business, in the last four years, more than 50 public and private nonprofit colleges have either announced plans to close, have closed, or have merged with another institution. Higher Ed Dive has been tracking the number of major colleges that have closed, merged or consolidated since 2016, providing an easy-to-use map showing that Massachusetts and New York lost ten schools each (with New York losing another one this week), followed by nine in Illinois and seven in California.   U.S. News and World Report reported that between July 2004 and June 2020 close to 12,000 college campuses closed. On a smaller scale, it is unknown precisely how many schools and majors within institutions are closed due to financial challenges and low enrollments. 

For provosts/chief academic officers, the elimination of programs and the closure of a college brings added responsibilities to ensure the orderly teach-out for enrolled students so that they may achieve the degree they signed up for with as little disruption as possible.  Staying student-focused is key during this time, however, it is also important to remember the impacts on faculty and staff who will understandably be concerned about their futures as well. What follows is a checklist of items to consider for provosts who are faced with teach-outs once the decision is made to close the program or school.

  • Assemble a team to meet regularly and to develop and implement all aspects of the teach-out.  This team should include relevant deans, student services personnel and a member of the communications department.
  • Ensure that there is regular and transparent communication with students, faculty, staff and alumni throughout the process.
  • Notify all involved regulators (e.g., state education department, institutional accreditor, specialty accreditor if relevant, etc.) about the decision to close and follow required accreditation standards for teach-outs. 
  • Develop a plan for the teach-out.  This includes a decision as to whether the institution can continue to enable enrolled students to complete their course of study or whether the college will create teach-out agreements with other institutions of higher education to accept transfer students from closing programs.
  • If the teach-out is to include external partners, identify those whose geographic proximity, quality of the program and affordability come closest to fulfilling student need.
  • In the case of inter-institutional teach-out agreements, depending upon the circumstances various regulators may be involved to differing degrees. 
  • There are many considerations for schools considering welcoming students from closing programs including: program caps, acceptability of transfer credits, parity of tuition and scholarships, whether licensure pass rates and other outcomes will be attributable to the receiving institution, etc.
  • Students will need academic counseling and information so that they can make the best decisions regarding future plans.  The names and contact information of the dedicated and identified faculty and staff who are available to help the students should be communicated as soon as possible to students.
  • Develop a communications plan in collaboration with the Communications Department.  Decide on who will be the spokesperson for internal and external (e.g., media) communications.
  • Develop an FAQ page on the program/college website that can be easily updated with new developments.
  • Meet frequently with faculty and staff and develop a plan to ensure to the best of the ability of the institution that they stay with the program until the end so that the students are supported with familiar and trusted teachers and staff.  This may include helping faculty and staff who may need to find other employment within or external to the institution.
  • Coordination with other university/college departments is essential.  For example, the Compliance Office, Financial Aid, Registrar, and Institutional Advancement may all have important advice and follow-up work to do.

A key in any teach-out effort is to stay mindful of the human concerns (students, faculty and staff) and Regulator requirements and deadlines.  This requires a heavy dose of emotional intelligence, strong and transparent communication skills, cooperation and collaboration with other institutions of higher education and a large amount of paperwork.

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