What are some reasons that lead to a university course being no longer offered?

I am thinking in particular about the course "Computational sustainability" or CPSC 530M offered in University of British Columbia.

I am guessing the following could be the reasons, but I'm not sure:

  • Not enough students are interested in the course
  • The course spends too much money and earns too little
  • The subject matter is obsolete (e.g. Eugenics theory)
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    Sometimes students feel intimidated by authority and do not ask their department questions such as this one. There is no reason not to ask! Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 0:19
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    Yes: ask the faculty to get the real answer.
    – user14140
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 1:43
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    My experience is that when a course seems to have disappeared, a not uncommon cause is that, for some reason, someone decided to change the name or the course number. The course itself is still there. Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 8:18
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    Ironic that a course on sustainability was not sustainable.
    – KCd
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 21:52

6 Answers 6


Some reasons we've eliminated courses in my department:

  • The professor who created the course is no longer at the college or is no longer interested in the material.
  • College-wide requirements have changed, and the course was created to meet a requirement (such as for interdisciplinary work).
  • As new courses are added, other courses have to be removed, unless the size of the faculty grows.
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    "The professor who created the course is no longer at the college" Heh, reminds me when I tried taking a Game Development/Design course at my Community College. College built a program around a certain professor, dedicated lab space, invested in what at the time were high end gaming machines, about 45 of them. Right at the end the professor decided to go back to college herself to get another degree. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 7:45
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    The professor who usually teaches the course is on a sabbatical or maternity leave or...
    – skymningen
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 9:08
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    The first suggestion is probably one of the most important ones. Except for "basic topics" that should definitely be taught in a given field, the concrete selection of courses depends primarily on who is ready to provide expertise in which specific topics. I have even seen considerable shifts in focus in the aforementioned basic courses (e.g. introduction to programming in CS) depending on who taught them. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 9:36
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    @skymningen that normally shouldn't cause a course to be stricken, as the professor can teach it upon return. It just means it won't be offered for a semester or two. Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 12:41
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    My institution (a community college) has recently started a policy of rotating assignments on courses that previously were only taught by a single instructor. This was at least in part due to losing a number of such instructors (retirement, illness, transfer, etc) and then being unable to offer the courses. Some of these courses were key electives for transfer degrees (such courses as Fundamentals of Journalism, Critical Thinking for Philosophy, and Introduction to Debate) and losing them has narrowed student options considerably, which in turn caused other courses to become impacted.
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 12:03

In one of the University's that I attended, the Geological Engineering courses were scrapped (and consequently, the entire degree), despite their uniqueness. Having said that, the reasons were valid, which included:

  • Drop in enrolments/interest - it already had a smallish enrolment base.
  • The expertise the professors had was quite unique for the courses offered, when one left for a more lucrative job and another passed away, they could not be replaced.
  • The job market - at the time, there was a drop in employment opportunities coming from this course.
  • Reputation - this is an interesting one, the course had many field trips, but the behaviour of many of the students were becoming less tolerated.

All these combined to inspire the powers that be to cancel the courses, and thus the degree in its entirety.

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    Yes, we college students CAN be a detriment to the institutions we shell out copious amounts of money to.......ironic isn't it, some will pay insert large sum here to attend somewhere, only to act like imbeciles and damage the reputations of the place they claim to want to graduate from. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 7:48
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    "Geological Engineering" - I don't suppose this would have been taught at the University of Magrathea by any chance, would it? :-) Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 5:06
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    @BobJarvis nope, at RMIT University - elements of the original degree are still there, but the degree itself is defunct.
    – user65092
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 1:45

It really depends on the country. In Brazil, where everything comes down to bureaucracy and authority, a professor is hired through a nation-wide exam/contest that has three or four phases and takes several days, to be responsible for a single course. Of course he/she will teach other courses, but that mandatory course is really the reason of his/her existence as faculty member. All other courses come and go, but those that are mandatory for all students to graduate and tied to that professor's career will always stay -- unless the faculty comes together and decide not to. If that happens, it usually means a bad thing for the professor who was in charge of the course: what would you do if the reason for your existence as a faculty member just vanished?

Optional courses depend on the goodwill of the department's director or of the faculty. That means if a professor wants to teach a course within the same department (say, Physics) which is not that course she was hired for (say, Quantum Physics), she has to ask for permission either from the head of the department or her other colleagues. On the other hand, if the department needs her to teach a course she wasn't hired for and maybe isn't comfortable teaching (say, Fluid Mechanics), it means she will teach it anyway.

Well, to sum it up: a course disappears because (most of) the faculty want it to.


The answers vary. Sometimes there's not demand, not enough registered people for the course, or no professor that can teach it. Courses may stay in the books (the catalog) but don't get offered. Perfect example, my department offers courses in applied probability and stochastic differential equations in the catalog, but it doesn't get taught.

As for your particular course, I'm not sure.


Just to add one more possible reason:

At our department when one professor takes a Sabbatical his courses are usually not offered by the remaining professors.


They also can vanish because of restructuring, either of its content, or because of the greater degree changes. This happened a huge amount over my undergraduate degree, as my university did a near complete overhaul, changing many 4 year bachelors degree's into 3 year bachelors + 2 year masters, and adding significant extra cross disciplinary requirements.

2 units may have there content reorganized into 1, or 3 units into 2 etc.

or unit might be appear to be cancelled, but is actually being deffered as it's position in the course structure has changed. For example, something might vanish for a few years, if it was originally a 2nd or 3rd year undergrad elective, but became a 5th year post-grad elective. Which may result from its pre-requisites moving around.

In one of the cases where this happened to me, even the faculty concerned thought the unit was being cancelled for good -- possibly because of the huge mess communicating is, or possibly because it was infact cancelled, only to be brought back as a separate decision, after seeing how it would fit into the new structure.

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