Senior Mackenzie Schade was in a lacrosse meeting when her friend texted her saying that the aging studies major is to be eliminated as part of the Academic Program Prioritization (APP) process.
“If I wasn’t in that meeting, I would’ve started crying immediately,” Schade said. “But because I was in that meeting, I had to pull myself together, and then after the meeting, I was just so upset.”
Schade said she came to Ithaca College knowing she wanted to major in aging studies, in part because of the personal interactions with professors in the major.
“Because classes are not huge, most classes are 10 kids maybe, … they just know you on such an individual level that I was just so lucky to have,” Schade said.
The aging studies major is one of 26 majors, programs and departments slated to be eliminated as a result of the APP process. The final recommendations for the APP process were made by the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee (APPIC) and approved by Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado and La Jerne Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, Feb 24. The aging studies major is in the Department of Gerontology, housed in the School of Humanities and Sciences.
Mary Ann Erickson, associate professor in the Department of Gerontology, is one of two professors who will remain at the college following the APP cuts. In a request for comment, Jessica Valdez Taves, assistant professor in the Department of Gerontology, said Erickson will speak on behalf of the entire department. Valdez Taves was notified that her position was not going to be renewed as a result of the APP.
“It’s hard on all of us as faculty members to see people that we know who are now slated to lose their positions,” Erickson said. “It’s not as hard on us, you know, obviously who get to stay, but there’s still that loss and concern for those who are leaving.”
The APPIC recommended that the aging studies major should be discontinued, but the minor, in addition to the Gerontology Institute and Longview partnership, can continue. As part of the Longview partnership, aging studies students can visit Longview Community Senior Living and interact with adult students there. Seniors living there can also travel to campus and take classes at the campus as well. With COVID-19 restrictions, the partnership has turned to a virtual setting.
“[The minor] is really important to us because that means that most of the classes that we teach about aging will still be offered to the minors,” Erickson said. “We feel pretty strongly about the value of the minor.”
According to the Office of Analytics and Institutional Research (AIR), only seven students enrolled in the aging studies major for Fall 2020.
“People typically come to our introductory classes because it meets, you know, an ICC requirement or they heard it’s interesting or they heard good things about the class,” Erickson said. “So for those students, they weren’t in the class because they were intending to be majors, although we always hoped to convert some of them.”
Senior Emma Brown-Shaklee first came to Ithaca College as a music major. She said she heard about gerontology at Accepted Students Day when she met with aging studies students.
“The students, they are what drew me in, or who drew me in,” Brown-Shaklee said. “They’re just really warm and compassionate and engaged. … It really helped to have gerontology to come home to.”
After she finished interviewing an older adult student at Longview for the Ithaca College Gerontology Newsletter, Brown-Shaklee heard that the major was getting cut. She said she was shocked and thought of her professors and the shortage of gerontologists and geriatricians in the country.
“Cutting a major was not leaving us in a direction to have more gerontologists and geriatricians,” Brown-Shaklee said.
According to the American Geriatric Society, there are 6,796 certified geriatricians in the United States and 3,590 full-time practicing geriatricians. As of 2018, the older adult population was 49.2 million. The society also projects that there will be a 45% increase in demand for geriatricians between 2013 and 2025.
Sophie Hudes ’19 said she is upset about the major getting cut. Hudes credited Erickson for helping her look at other areas of the aging studies field and deciding on where she wanted to work. She also said that she took part in the Gerontology Institute during her time at the college and that every person in the department impacted her. Hudes currently serves as Director of Life Enrichment at the Delaney of Bridgewater, a retirement community in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
“If I didn’t take the classes that they provided me and given me the hands-on working experience, … I don’t think I would be where I am today,” Hudes said.
While she said she thinks it is great that the college is keeping the minor, she does not know how the program will look as there were only three professors in the department before the APP process began.
“It’s a shame that the aging studies program won’t be experienced by other students that have the same passion that I do,” Hudes said.