Pushing cardboard carts brimming with their belongings, Goucher College’s newest students arrived on campus Saturday amid sweeping changes to the college’s campus and academic programs.
Two of the three dorms in the “First-year Village” opened their doors for the first time this week to welcome residents, days after the college announced it would eliminate a number of majors and minors to reallocate resources to more popular programs.
Freshmen this year will be the last students able to major in math, physics, music, Russian studies, studio art, theater, religion, elementary education and special education. Goucher will also phase out minors in book studies, German and Judaic studies.
But as new students settled into the campus, they were not overly concerned with the loss of majors for students that will follow them.
Holly Baker Hill, whose daughter, Haddie Hill, moved in Saturday, said she was impressed by the college’s forward-thinking approach to restructuring its academic offerings.
“They don’t take calculus … but she’s taking a data statistics class, which is fantastic,” Baker Hill said. “When we looked at other schools with her, they were still with that old, kind of like, ‘OK, take your calculus B/C,’ and this and that.”
Even as the math major is being eliminated, all Goucher students will be required to take math courses.
“The choice of major is way less important than that you get the whole toolbox, that you do have math,” Goucher College President Jose Bowen said. “So it was more important to have 100 percent of students have two semesters of math and to feel comfortable with that than to have two students have this upper division and everybody else taking math for plants.”
Bowen said most of the feedback he’s received since last week’s announcement has been positive. But he understands alumni with emotional connections to majors that are being axed.
Still, new students said they understood the decision. Haddie Hill, 18, was drawn to Goucher from San Antonio for the school’s innovation. She said she expects the elimination of majors to change the atmosphere of Goucher’s academics.
“I think it’s a good thing and a bad thing,” said Hill, who hopes to pursue coursework in international relations and environmental policy. “It allows people to focus more on the majors that more people are doing, but also it kind of brings down the smaller majors that are more selective.”
Yohanes Gray, an 18-year-old freshman from Middletown, Del., is considering a degree in business management or political science. He said he’s heard arguments for and against eliminating majors.
“They’re trying to do what’s best for everyone, and I know like it’s hard to please everybody,” Gray said. “At the end of the day some people are going to be unhappy, some people are going to be happy, but you have to do what’s best for the school.”
Bowen said only about 5 percent of current students are in majors to be cut. But classes in those areas will remain, and extracurricular programs will be added for students to pursue those interests.
“Lots of people want to be in a play. They don’t want to be a theater major,” Bowen said. “We’re going to enhance that, and we’ll add more musical ensembles and more opportunities because what students want is more activities.”
Meanwhile, new students were excited to be the first residents of two dorms in the First-year Village. The triad of buildings will house all of the university’s freshmen, and it uses principles of “nudge” design to encourage students to interact.
Lounges are near central staircase landings on each floor. And large televisions and projector screens are located on the first floors with the hope students will abandon screen-time in their rooms. Each of the three buildings also houses community spaces on the ground level including an exercise studio, gaming room, color-changing gas fireplace and demonstration kitchen.
Goucher relocated three other buildings last year to make space for the First-year Village. A group of about 30 students designed the new freshman residences, which sit around a common lawn complete with hammocks, an amphitheater and fire pit.
“It’s a very nice contained space for the first-years to kind of have their own community to kind of settle themselves into,” said Brady Rubenstein, an 18-year-old freshman from Sykesville.
This year’s freshman class is the Goucher’s third largest with 440 students, Bowen said. It’s also the most diverse; 42 percent of students are minorities, up from 26 percent five years ago, he said.
In addition to new dorms, the campus also opened a remodeled dining hall this week. Multiple dining halls were combined into one central location with new foods that cater to convenience and students’ dietary restrictions. New menu options include stations for poke bowls, Mongolian barbecue, baked goods made from scratch, expanded kosher and halal options.