Creating a new major is a serious undertaking that requires careful planning, preparation and hard work. Despite the hurdles, several new majors emerge each year at Minnesota Private Colleges, where there are more than 150 majors offered overall. Here are recent examples from St. Olaf College, Hamline University and the University of St. Thomas.
School of Nursing
University of St. Thomas
For the University of St. Thomas, the process of launching a school of nursing began in 2014 with a vision to create a College of Health, including a nursing program focused on social justice and in close alignment with the school’s motto, All for the Common Good.
A task force then looked at St. Thomas’ academic offerings, conducted a feasibility study and solicited feedback from internal and external stakeholders. A market analysis determined that 811 students over the previous five years had applied to St. Thomas but enrolled in nursing programs elsewhere because the school lacked a nursing major.
“We wanted to address health disparities to impact health equity, which we define as health care for all so everyone has access to health care,” said Martha Scheckel, founding director of nursing and professor at the Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing.
Interestingly, the challenges Scheckel faced in creating a new school of nursing were not what she thought they’d be. Recruiting faculty and securing clinical sites were not a problem, she said. Instead the challenge was all the details, including uniforms, nursing pin design, building out facilities and compliance requirements. Working closely with the “really excellent” State Board of Nursing to obtain all regulatory approvals within one year required non-stop work.
The nursing program consists of a pre-licensure master’s program for students who have their bachelor’s degrees in other fields, as well as a Bachelor of Science in nursing program. When classes started this month, 157 students were enrolled in the two programs. From Scheckel’s perspective, everything has gone better than she expected.
“The pandemic made us more agile, especially in the use of educational technology, but it also amplified existing health disparities, so we’ve become more passionate about addressing health equity,” Scheckel said. “I want to convey gratitude to everyone who helped make this happen. There have been a lot of helping hands.”
Creative Writing major
St. Olaf College
Discussions at St. Olaf College about adding a creative writing major have been ongoing for more than a decade.
“Prospective students were asking for a creative writing major, rather than taking creative writing courses as part of an English major,” said Jon Naito, associate professor and chair of the English Department. “Nationally, other colleges were adding a creative writing major, and as a 3,000-plus student liberal arts college, it seemed doable.”
St. Olaf is always looking for ways to serve more students by offering classes they’re interested in, and according to Naito, private liberal arts colleges can pivot quickly once they determine sufficient demand exists. Colleges like St. Olaf allow faculty to add courses on the edges of a major, then gauge interest and create something new by reconfiguring existing resources to meet new needs.
The English department was going through a periodic review in 2018 when the recommendation of adding a standalone creative writing major emerged, with outside reviewers seeing the college was able to do it successfully. Primary considerations for moving forward included whether there was sufficient student interest and faculty for teaching any required new courses. According to Naito, because two teaching positions were added in 2010 to increase creative writing class offerings, adding this new major was a smooth process.
“We launched this program a year ago and currently have 12 creative writing majors. Some of these students wouldn’t have considered St. Olaf without this major,” Naito said. “The reaction has been very positive among new students, and many are strongly considering creative writing. I’m very happy with how it’s gone so far, and it’s fair to say there’s significant interest that will grow over the next few years.”
Forensic and Investigative Science major
Student interest in criminology and forensic science at Hamline grew by 86 percent between 2012 and 2022. That was just one of the factors that made it clear that it was time to move from having a certificate program for forensic science to launching a Bachelor of Arts in forensic and investigative science.
The new major was launched this September. No other colleges regionally offer a Bachelor of Arts in investigative science, noted Shelly Schaefer, associate professor and chair of the criminal justice and forensic science department.
“The department worked with my Hamline colleagues in biology, chemistry, biochemistry and math to create the new forensic science major,” Schaefer said. “This new major recognizes that students and those working in law enforcement can have a deeper understanding of forensic science without having a desire to work in a crime lab.”
A key step to reaching this point was hiring Jamie Spaulding in 2019, with an eye to how he could help create the program. Spaulding met with students in the forensic science certificate program to gauge their interest in the proposed curriculum, and with Hamline adjunct instructors who also work for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to ensure the new major would meet job requirements and create a sound degree.
Hamline continuously reassesses its course offerings to ensure the school’s academic programs meet student demand and prepare students for a career. Ultimately the full faculty of the College of Liberal Arts and the board of trustees voted to approve the new forensic and investigative science major.
“We anticipate there will be many job openings for forensic science technicians in the near future, and the hope is our graduates will be very competitive candidates for these jobs. Offering this major is very exciting for prospective students,” added Schaefer. “We did our due diligence, and we’re proud of our process. We got support and feedback from several departments to launch a very rigorous major.”