Community Health program in transition, primary major introduced

Currently, students looking to study Community Health (CH) can only declare it as a secondary major, meaning that students have to select another, “primary” major to study simultaneously. Next fall’s undergrads, however, will be the first to be able to pursue a primary CH major without being required to study something else, freeing up both time and credits for those interested in the field. The decision to give the major primary status was made last fall.

According to Dr. Jennifer Allen, the director of the Community Health Program, the course requirements for the new CH major have increased from 10 to 12. In addition, Allen said that the new major will not require electives to be spread across “clusters” or sub-topics. This way, students have the option to use their electives to go in-depth into a specific topic or to explore a breadth of topics.

“[This] is a result of many years of student demand, and also following national trend in terms of undergraduate education and public health,” Allen said.

Allen said that when she came to Tufts in the fall of 2013, she immediately recognized that there was a demand among students for a primary CH major. Allen has noticed that many of her advisees have known that they want to take CH as a major, but have been unsure about what primary major to choose. Jessica Mar, a first-year, was one of those conflicted students.

“When [CH] was only available as a secondary major, not knowing that it would become a primary major, I considered anthropology as my primary major to supplement it; I heard it was very popular, that combination,” Mar said. “But now that I know that I can just focus on this one major, I think that’s more appealing to me, instead of having to stretch myself too thin over too many courses and requirements.”

Allen found that students were eager to support the program and help advocate for a primary major. According to her, students organized an event last year to encourage their peers to help CH make the switch.

National trends in CH or public health education contributed to the decision to make the primary major, according to Allen.

“Nationally, public health or community health education is growing exponentially. So, if you think about where we were 20 years [ago], there has been a 750 percent increase in the number of [CH] undergraduate degrees that have been conferred in the United States between 1992-2012,” Allen said. “In 1992, there were 45 colleges or universities offering undergraduate degrees, and in 2012 it [was] up to 270.”

Looking beyond the college campus and into the workforce, another factor contributing to the change in the major has been the growing national demand for public health practitioners.

“[The creation of the primary major is] responsive to national trends across the U.S. in terms of education, but also it’s being very responsive to what the Institute of Medicine and the Association of Schools of Public Health are seeing and projecting in terms of a need for additional public health practitioners,” Allen added. “There are projections that we’re going to need a very substantial increase in people practicing and trained in public health, and so this is responsive to student demand, but also responsive to the future marketplace.”

Along with these national trends, Tufts CH professors and students alike believe that having CH as a primary major is a key advancement for the program at Tufts.

Sophomore Michael Wang, who is majoring in American Studies and Chinese, maintains CH as a secondary major while minoring in Asian Studies. According to Wang, there has been strong student support for turning CH into a primary major and for the university to recognize and represent the significance of the program.

“Most people that are in [the CH program] love Community Health and they want it to grow, and they want it to become a primary major,” Wang said. “I feel like when something is a second major, it has that connotation that it’s supplemental.”

Assistant Professor of Health and Community Medicine Cora Roelofs, who has been with the CH program since Fall 2012, also believes that making CH a primary major is one of the first steps in promoting the program’s status at Tufts.

“I think that it’s sort of inherent in how the language and the perception that Community Health — which is not a department but a program — is ‘less than’ other programs because of not having a primary major, because of not being a department, because of having so few faculty,” she said. “And so I think [having the primary major] is part of our claim for our equal status and important status on the campus.”

Roelofs hopes that making CH a primary major will not only better reflect popular support, but will also encourage more students to declare the major, especially since it no longer has to be coupled with another major’s requirements.

“More [students] who wanted [a CH primary major] are able to do it, especially students who have other demands like student athletes, or pre-meds, or people that don’t come in with a lot of AP or language credits,” Roelofs said. “People who are at a relative disadvantage compared to other Tufts students may have been excluded from a Community Health major, and so this will allow them to have a CH major, so it sort of equalizes things.”

Regarding the future of the program, Allen disclosed plans to hire additional, tenure-track faculty. Currently, the CH faculty is comprised of associate or assistant professors, and does not include tenure positions. According to Allen, the new faculty searches will allow the program to recruit and retain new faculty.

Allen has high hopes for the program. According to her, it’s going through an exciting transformation and has the potential to continue advancing.

“I think that Tufts has the opportunity to really be a leader in this field,” she said. “I’m very glad to be here and to be a part of this program.”