2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM


ROSSBACHER, Lisa A., Southern Polytechnic State Univ, 1100 S Marietta Pkwy SE, Marietta, GA 30060-2855 and RHODES, Dallas D., Department of Geology and Geography, Georgia Southern Univ, Statesboro, GA 30460, rossbach@spsu.edu

Recent closures of geology programs at U.S. colleges and universities (e.g., Univ. of Connecticut) reflect a continuing decrease in the number of degree-granting geoscience programs. Longitudinal data from the American Geological Institute's Directory of Geoscience Departments support this conclusion.

Between 1989 and 2002, the number of "geo-" departments (geology, geological sciences, or geosciences) in the U.S. decreased by 16% and "earth science" departments dropped by 22%. A quarter (25%) of all the departments changed their names to expand the areas included, either with a new title or by appending other academic disciplines to the name. Over this same period, 19 departments stopped offering any bachelor's degree that could be listed in the AGI Directory.

In 1996, all of the top ten liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News and World Report rankings had strong geology programs. Today, seven do. Among the top 40 liberal arts colleges in 1996, 75% had geology programs, with about 50% of the second tier, 25% of third tier colleges, and almost none of the fourth-tier schools. In 2003, only 65% of the top-50 liberals arts colleges offered a bachelor's degree in a field that had either "earth" or "geo-" in its name. In the second tier of colleges, this percentage fell to 25%, and then 12% and 11% for the third- and fourth-tier colleges, respectively. For nationally ranked research universities, the percentages offering these bachelor's degrees were 84% (top 50), 75% (2nd tier), 72% (3rd tier), and 64% (4th tier). Out of over 100 historically black colleges and universities in the U.S., only two offer a degree in geology or earth science. Geology programs are becoming the province of (1) well-endowed smaller colleges or (2) large universities.

These trends place the profession at risk through (1) decrease in student preparation for graduate work, (2) potential loss of rigor in geological education, (3) decrease in diversity of the work force, and (4) loss of the unique intellectual contributions for understanding the temporal, spatial, and historical relationships that characterize geology. Reversing the trends will require public understanding of the importance of geology to the nation's intellectual and economic future.