President Joseph Helble, '82, announced a goal of expanding interdisciplinary education at Lehigh. Helble plans increase the number of first year students allowed to enroll in the current interdisciplinary programs. (Bucky Yu/B&W Staff)

President Helble to increase size of interdisciplinary programs by 50 percent


Lehigh offers three interdisciplinary programs which combine majors from different colleges. Each of these programs currently has an enrollment cap with smaller class sizes. 

President Joseph Helble recently announced plans to increase the class size of these programs by 50 percent in the coming years. 

The current programs consist of the Integrated Business and Engineering program, (IBE) which currently enrolls around 50 student per class, the Computer Science and Business Program (CSB), which is capped around 40 students per class, and the Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Science (IDEAS) which is capped around 30 students per class, said Jenna Lay, College of Arts & Science director of special programs

Helble said the timeline is intentionally flexible and expected to be three to five years

“The growth should come at a rate that’s appropriate, given our ability to staff the programs and given students interest as expressed in the applicant pool,” he said. 

Enlarging the class sizes for these interdisciplinary programs has been met with some concerns from the program directors. 

A concern of some directors surrounding Helble’s goal is maintaining the high level of advising and support that interdisciplinary students need to matriculate these programs. 

IDEAS is unique in its conception and design,” Lay said. ” Because each student develops their own distinctive integrated theme—combining concentrations in engineering and the arts and sciences—it is a program that requires intensive advising support and regular seminars focused on integration.” 

It is important to consider the necessary faculty and staff resources  needed for growth in a constructive way, Lay said. 

Co-Director of IBE Robert Kish said he is worried with a larger class size, IBE students may feel lost in the advising process since they navigate two majors in the business and engineering schools. 

IBE requirements and their major requirements need to be monitored closely, so there needs to be resources to ensure the advising process has the capacity to handle these additional students, Kish said. 

Another topic CSB Co-Director Troy Adair said needs to be addressed is the formal entry to the CSB program for freshmen that were not admitted as CSB students, but transfer in after their freshman year. Due to the cap with initial CSB enrollment, more students transfer in once they are already at Lehigh.

“We currently only admit approximately 40-50 incoming freshmen to the CSB (program), but another 20 usually transfer at the end of freshman year,” Adair said. 

Kish said students enrolled in IBE have to complete a minimum of 137 credits, so it is necessary that the College of Engineering and College of Business can provide an increased enrollment size with their required courses. There have been logistical problems in the past for IBE students matriculating through their required courses, so there exists the possibility that these problems will increase with the expansion of the program, Kish said. 

The directors said similar issues of capacity exist in both the CSB and IDEAS programs as well. 

The program directors said they are adamant on maintaining the high academic standards of their programs and producing exceptional students. 

Sometimes a high-quality niche program is more valuable than a diluted large program,” Kish said. “This is not to say that the quality of the program cannot be maintained or even improved if the enrollment is increased. But to make that happen, the necessary resources must also be allocated to the program.”

Helble said there have not been efforts to grow these programs in the past.

“We’ve kept them essentially under wraps and available to a limited number of students,” he said. “Lehigh’s got something great here. Let’s make elements of it available to everyone.” 

He said he thinks there is also an opportunity in the College of Health to explore partnerships with all of the other schools, possibly creating new interdisciplinary programs.  

“You’re going to be working for 40, 50, 60 years after you leave Lehigh,” Helble said. “What are the jobs going to be that are offered to you in a decade? What are the problems going to be that are facing the world? What is your employer going to need you to learn? You don’t know. The more you can learn when you’re in college about ways to challenge yourself and teach yourself in disciplines that aren’t your core strength, I think the better prepared you are going to be.” 

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