A chart of the majors being chosen by college students shows they are rapidly turning away from the humanities.
The Washington Post, using information from the National Center for Education Statistics, reported there were 25% fewer English majors in 2017 than there were in 2009. Students majoring in philosophy, religion, foreign language or education also were down between 16% and 22% during that time period. It’s worth noting that these declines are coming during a time when college enrollment is rising.
In terms of attracting more students, health care is the big winner: It had 97% more majors in 2017. The so-called STEM fields — meaning science, technology, engineering and math — were up between 55% and 88%. Perhaps most interesting is that homeland security majors were up by 42%.
It’s pretty easy to understand why more college students are avoiding the humanities: Because more of the jobs are in other fields, and nobody should blame students — or their parents who pay for the education — for gravitating toward studies more likely to produce employment.
The one exception to that trend might be education, where the job outlook probably is stable but students appear to be deciding they’d rather do something besides teach.
As for the list of rising majors, it’s no shock that medical care studies have nearly doubled. Somebody’s going to have to take care of the aging baby boomers, and the continued advances in medical technology make it likely that jobs in fields as-yet unconceived will be created.
If there is a surprise in the list of majors attracting more students, it’s homeland security. That doesn’t quite have the zing of a medical major or a STEM major. But the trend makes sense: The public has to worry about attacks from both foreign terrorists and unhinged Americans. It’s sad to say, but the rising number of threats is creating job opportunities.
The Post story that included the chart of rising and declining majors explored the issue from an interesting angle: Some prominent economists believe that more students should consider taking a couple of humanities classes as a complement to whatever else they’re studying.
This is a good point. It can only help a medical specialist, computer scientist or engineer if he or she can write clearly or has an appreciation for history. A Nobel Prize-winning economist’s new book opens with a story about how he learned more about the Great Depression in a college history course than he did in any of his financial courses.
This past August, at a meeting of economists from around the world, the chairman of Australia’s central bank urged his peers to talk less about numbers and to tell more stories “that people can understand,” such as how policies contribute to the economy and make a difference in people’s lives.
Some of this already is going on. Jamaica’s central bank has been the most creative, hiring reggae artists to sing to the public about the evils of high inflation. That may not go over in every country, but the idea of using the arts to explain economics makes sense. Perhaps the central bankers and economists should hire a few English majors to help them tell their stories.