Posted by: crudbasher | June 10, 2013

What Use Are Humanities?

A recent article in the Wall Street J0urnal notes that enrollment in Humanities has dropped in US colleges. From the article:

Among recent college graduates who majored in English, the unemployment rate was 9.8%; for philosophy and religious-studies majors, it was 9.5%; and for history majors, it was also 9.5%, according to a report this month by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute that used data from 2010 and 2011.

By comparison, recent chemistry graduates were unemployed at a rate of just 5.8%; and elementary-education graduates were at 5%.

Because of the ability of such information to become more widely known, students have adjusted their plans accordingly. As of 2010, only 7% of college students chose a humanities degree. Why? Because they want jobs.

“People say you should do what you love,” Mr. Lytle said during a break from his job giving tours of the Ivy League campus Wednesday. “But the reality is that it’s kind of a tougher economic time, and we do have to worry about living after graduation. I don’t want to be doing what I love and be homeless,” he added.

(H/T Wall Street Journal)

(H/T Wall Street Journal)

Most educators who talk about reform like to talk about teaching, and tests and technology. I like to talk about economics because I have come to realize that money is what drives all the other things. In good times, nothing tends to change. In bad times, reform becomes not only possible, but necessary. So should be scrap the humanities? Well, I get to that in a moment but really the decision won’t be in the educators hands. The students will decide. As I have said often, what will happen if 10% of incoming freshmen decide to stay home? Nationally humanities related majors have fallen from 14% of all students in 1966 to 7% in 2012. What is crazy is that most of that decline happened in just 5 years in the early 70s. What happened then? Prolonged economic bad times plus societal unrest following the Vietnam war. Same thing that is happening today.

Despite all of this, I am a supportive of learning about humanities. If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will know by now that I don’t like wasted resources. I think it’s a huge waste to get a humanities degree in exchange for say 100,000+ dollars in debt. Despite this I think there is a lot of value in liberal arts courses. A person will be a lot more rounded than if they just take computer science classes for example. As our economy goes through a series of massive disruptive changes, a bit of philosophical rounding would be quite useful.

It’s important to restate something here. The people who are choosing not to take humanities courses of study aren’t going it because they don’t like it, they are doing it because it costs way to much. If college was 10% of the current cost, I bet many more people would take it. Not only that, but more people would take courses just for the joy of learning. To make that happen, the economics of schooling must radically change. They will, but I’m not sure all the colleges will be willing to adapt.

There are many technological storm clouds of change on the horizon approaching education. Economics is the wind driving them along. A bad economy hastens their approach. Get ready to get wet.

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