The number of students majoring in humanities has been consistently declining at UW-Madison
History, political science and english have all faced more than a 20 percent decline in five years
As a college student in 2017, it seems as though everyone is majoring in business, engineering, pre-med or pre-law.
In 2013 both The New York Times and The Atlantic reported that humanities are experiencing a decrease in interest and in completed degrees. The articles cite universities like Stanford and Harvard, but is this decline in humanities happening at UW-Madison as well?
In recent years, the humanities at UW-Madison have faced some cut backs. In terms of programs, many departments have been combined, such as the Department of Scandinavian, German and Slavic studies, which is comprised of three former departments.
In 2016, there were 13 Scandinavian studies majors, 21 German majors, and 15 Russian majors. The department showing the most significant shrinkage is the German department.
The German major has shrunk significantly in the past five years, after graduating 37 in 2012, and making their way down to the aforementioned 21 in 2016, a 56.7 percent decrease in five years. By contrast, the Russian department has more than doubled its size in the past five years, going from six Russian majors graduated in 2012, to 15 in 2016. This is the only of the three majors showing growth, which can most likely be credited to the formation of the Russian Flagship program in partnership with the NSA.
The Department of German, Slavic and Scandinavian studies is one of many departments that has been downsized and/or combined, and it will most likely continue to happen, but what is happening in the larger departments?
As of 2016, the two largest majors at UW were biology and economics, graduating 563 and 548 students, respectively. Both of these degrees are on an upwards trend. Biology is up 127.6 percent since 2012, and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
Other majors on the rise include computer science, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, biochemistry, and finance and investment banking. In terms of shrinkage, the largest change has been the history major. The number of history majors has been in constant decline since 2012, going from 319 degrees in 2012 to 171 in 2016, roughly a 54 percent loss over five years. Similar declines have been marked in political science and english departments, both of which have lost roughly 100 people, amounting to 21.5 percent and 36.3 percent decline, respectively.
The numbers show that there has been a significant decline in people graduating with humanities majors, but is this aversion to the humanities based in fact or fiction?
Nationally, recent college graduates with a business degree have a seven percent unemployment rate, engineering graduates have roughly an eight percent unemployment rate, and humanities have a 10 percent unemployment rate. Relying on the numbers alone, one may think a humanities degree is a risky choice, but it is important to remember their are valuable skills a person receives when completing a humanities major.
In the words of Mark Slouka, an American novelist, “The humanities, done right, are the crucible in which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do, but how to be. "
In short, the humanities degree is on the decline in colleges across the United States, but the degree is valuable because it educates the whole person, and teaches a skill set that can be applied to any job. The ultimate decision of what major to choose is a personal one, so choose something you are passionate about whether that passion is popular or not.