Are Humanities in crisis ?

Students are abandoning humanities majors, turning to degrees they think yield far better job prospects. Are humanities really in retreat ? Do tech disciplines and STEM (Science; Technology; Engineering; Mathematics) majors guarantee them better jobs ?

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, students seem to have shifted their view of what they should be studying to enhance their chances on the job market. And something essential is being lost in the process. Almost every humanities field has seen a rapid drop in majors: History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s. Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities and related social sciences, they have not stabilized with the economic recovery.

Perhaps most alarming is that the recent decline is especially severe at liberal-arts colleges and more elite schools. Elite liberal-arts colleges have historically been about evenly divided between the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. But in the past decade, their humanities majors have fallen from a third to well under a quarter of all degrees. Elite research universities, too, have seen a drop to about 70 percent of their precrisis numbers.

The fields that have risen in the past decade are almost entirely STEM majors, including nursing, engineering, computer science, and biology. Quantitative social sciences like economics and psychology have held steady, while fields in closer proximity to the humanities like political science, sociology, and anthropology have shown declines, especially since 2011.

Even as the command of culture becomes less central at elite locations, some humanities may be demonstrating more usefulness than ever to students who seek to better understand culture from outside the dominant perspective. The question is how much space any of the humanities can ultimately take up in a university, when the dominant perspective continues to warn students away.

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