Amid enrollment drop, GCC reexamines gender and women’s study focus

  • Staff File Photo/Paul Franz Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2022 8:41:10 PM

GREENFIELD — After more than a decade of enrollment decline, Greenfield Community College administrators are making structural changes in an effort to improve student outcomes — a process that may include a controversial decision to end the gender and women’s studies advising option, or focus, within the liberal arts major.

“As the institution has declined over the last decade, we have to do a self-reflection of the needs that aren’t being met,” said GCC President Michelle Schutt. “I think, as a responsive institution, we have an obligation to continue reviewing our offerings based on enrollment … as well as regional workforce needs.”

According to GCC enrollment trends, the fall headcount has declined since 2010, when there were 2,583 students. In fall 2022, there were 1,413 students enrolled.

Schutt said part of the administration’s approach to reversing the trend will involve the implementation of Guided Pathways, a nationally recognized strategy for providing students with a more streamlined path to success. Ultimately, it aims to offer students fewer choices so they are able to focus on completion without getting “lost along their way to a degree.”

The Guided Pathways model was introduced to GCC’s board of trustees earlier this month during a presentation by Dean of Social Sciences and Professional Studies Charles “Chet” Jordan. He noted that while community colleges were modeled after four-year comprehensive degrees, community colleges “serve many more and different missions.”

“What we’ve realized over the last decade is enrollment has declined, completion rates have declined and retention rates have declined,” Jordan said. “Something has to be done with the architecture, the core, of the community college experience.”

He said Guided Pathways offers an avenue for ensuring resources — fiscal and otherwise — are put into where there is student demand. Programs and advising options require resources from admissions and advising to the registrar and academic affairs.

One program that has seen minimal enrollment over the years, he acknowledged, is the gender and women’s studies advising option within the liberal arts major. He said in 10 years, six people have graduated with that option.

“It’s squarely an enrollment issue,” Jordan said.

The discussion around discontinuing this option, however, has stirred strong feelings from some members of the community. Speaking to board of trustees members earlier this month, Student Trustee Maggie Brisbois read a letter of disagreement from GCC’s Student Senate.

“This is a crucial time in the world to be advancing this option, not letting it go,” Brisbois read. “Gender and women’s studies helps us understand how gender works to shape the lives of individuals, as well as characters of all societies. The gender and women’s studies option forces students to think critically and provide a different lens to understand people and view society.”

Schutt, who clarified the discontinuation of the advising option is still “under review,” said one criticism she’s heard is the college shouldn’t be cutting the option in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking away the constitutional right to abortion.

“Curriculum isn’t political,” she said. “Curricular decisions have to be made, in part, based on student demand.”

Schutt added that the classes for gender and women’s studies will remain available to students, as they are elective options for other majors. Also, as there are no full-time gender and women’s studies faculty, no jobs will be lost. Ultimately, she explained, the rationale for removing the gender and women’s studies advising option within the liberal arts major aligns with a broader effort to streamline academic programs, resulting in fewer choices and more focused pathways through degree programs.

Responding to the students’ statement, Jordan acknowledged “growing pains” are to be expected when simplifying academic programs or reducing the number of programs available.

“It always engenders an emotional response from the community,” he said. “If it didn’t, I’d be incredibly shocked and dismayed that a community would just let go of a program without any response at all.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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