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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The decline in enrollment in the humanities is a tragedy for education

As the number of students in the hard sciences grows, we must remember the timeless benefits of the humanities

 

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

If you are a UC Davis student, the odds are you’re probably a STEM major — nearly 60% of undergraduates at Davis are pursuing a degree in STEM. In fact, between the 2010-2011 and the 2016-2017 school years, the number of STEM degrees awarded in California increased by 55%. Studying the hard sciences can lead to innovations and new technologies that help improve life and many of these subjects promise financially stable career paths, so the emphasis on STEM is understandable. However, this has led to a decline in the number of students studying the humanities and consequently universities offering humanities courses, which makes getting a well-rounded education more difficult for all college students. 

The number of students majoring in English across the U.S. has declined by a third between 2011 and 2021, and last year only 7% of Harvard freshmen planned to major in the humanities. More recently, Marymount University, a private school in Virginia, disbanded many majors in the humanities such as English, history, philosophy and sociology. While this specific case involves a small private university, it still serves as a reminder of the growing decline of these fields of study. 

Skills taught in STEM courses seem to be more of a priority than writing, critical thinking and communication, which are often taught in humanities courses. This makes sense because careers in STEM fields tend to make higher wages directly out of college. We aren’t expecting you to completely disregard the realities of the housing and job markets, but it is a tragedy for education to devalue the humanities, which help everyone, regardless of major, to develop skills that are applicable to every field.

From those studying biochemistry to engineering, every student needs to learn how to write and communicate well to become successful in whatever field they pursue. Most jobs will require employees to write papers, reports and dozens of emails, and the writing experience that humanities courses provide is essential for students to excel in their future careers.

Critical thinking is another skill that is further developed through the study of the humanities. For example, majoring in English requires you to dive into readings and evaluate different authors’ texts. Developing a level of critical literacy is important when consuming any form of media — regardless of whether it is for work or not. 

Majors in the humanities also teach students how to formulate strong arguments, solve problems and assess evidence. In philosophy classes, you learn the reasoning behind commonly believed theories and how to better argue your own. History classes can help you practice understanding, contextualizing and interpreting evidence. 

Studying the humanities also helps improve both oral and written communication skills, which will allow you to thrive in all areas of your life and will be especially helpful in a competitive job market. These types of majors and classes that are seen by some as “useless” provide benefits and skills that will last your whole life.

Universities should do more to promote enrollment in humanities courses and support the students who choose to major in these subjects. One way to do this is to provide more resources on the career options for students in these majors. Additionally, universities should encourage or even require all students to take more humanities courses.

STEM careers are becoming increasingly valuable in our society, and the money and jobs available in these fields are enticing to students. However, as STEM becomes more popular, the value that the humanities provide should not be forgotten. 

 

Written by: The Editorial Board