May 2, 2024 - News

Temple may cut renowned recreational therapy program

Illustration of a diploma as a protest sign.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Temple University students are organizing to save the recreational therapy program from potentially being cut due to steep enrollment declines over the last decade.

Why it matters: Temple's nationally renowned program is the only one of its kind offered in the Philly region, which is among the nation's leading employers of recreational therapists.

Driving the news: The Recreational Therapy Student Association has amassed over 2,000 signatures, many from upset students and alumni, on a petition to save the program.

  • Students tell Axios that university leadership decided to cut the bachelor's of science degree without consulting them or giving them proper notice.
  • Faculty only heard of the decision on Valentine's Day, a revelation that cut through the hearts of many on campus.

Yes, but: A university spokesperson tells Axios the "future of the program is still being discussed" — news to student group leaders who say the decision was presented as essentially a done deal.

What they're saying: "In today's climate, you cannot outright say you want to cut a program that focuses on disability rights," says Sophie Paslowsky, a junior and spokesperson for the Recreational Therapy Student Association. "They're being a little tricky."

Zoom in: A total of 70 students are enrolled in the recreational therapy program this year, with 19 set to graduate in May.

  • The university says recreational therapy, housed in the school's College of Public Health, was identified last year as among the majors with sustained declines in enrollment.
  • The program went from a high of 20 new enrollees in 2014 to just a single incoming student in fall 2023. The school says it also attracts fewer transfers interested in the major.

Reality check: Colleges across the country are cutting programs and reprioritizing amid budget crunches, including Temple which asked every college to conduct a "program review" of its offerings.

  • "Often, the impacts for the broader universities seem to be fairly short-lived, but if you're looking to major in recreational therapy, that community will always remember this," Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at the University of Tennessee, tells Axios.

What we're watching: Students tell Axios that university officials have floated shifting the program from a major to a minor, a concentration or folding it into another degree-granting program.

  • But students say those options ignore crucial work of recreational therapists who help people improve their health by steering them toward goals and activities that bring them joy.

Temple professor and faculty advisor Brandon Snead tells Axios that the university's program will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year if it's not abolished.

  • "People see this as a family more than somewhere they just went to school," Snead says.

The bottom line: Students say they'll continue advocating for the program.

  • "We might be small but we're mighty. We're willing to fight for what we believe is so impactful," says junior Maria Rotondo of the student group.

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