By Devin Fehely

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Faced with dwindling enrollment and mounting debt, Mills College is considering a program to beef up its science and business courses, while cutting back many of its traditional arts offerings.

“It’s telling people that the arts don’t matter when, in fact, the arts are integral to a liberal arts education,” said Stephanie Hewett, a graduate student in the school’s dance program.

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Supporters of the embattled dance program have started an online petition. They have already gathered more than 4,000 signatures in an effort to save what they claim is the oldest, continuously running dance program in the country.

Interim provost Sharon Washington says it just makes sense, academically and financially, to focus on the programs most popular with their students.

“Where is our enrollment in terms of some of these programs and majors? Because certainly our current students are informing us in terms of the majors and programs they are most interested in, because they are the ones they actually enroll in,” Washington told KPIX 5.

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In addition to dance, many of the college’s language programs such as French and Spanish, as well as American and African-American studies are also potentially on the chopping block, much to the disappointment of students.

“I was really surprised,” said Mills College freshman Danae Kimble. “Because as a liberal arts school, I can’t see them deciding to cut such big artistic programs like dance, like language because that’s part of the reason why I applied here.”

While administrators say the cuts are necessary to save the school’s future, many students fear the school may be losing its identity in the process.

“The college in no way is saying that we’re not committed to being a liberal arts institution,” Washington said.

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Hewett said, “You’re telling people that the arts don’t matter. It’s really heartbreaking. It really is.”