By JANELLE JAMES
Capital News Service
LANSING – Nearly half of college students nationwide who majored in humanities wish they chose a different major.
Michigan colleges have seen a decrease in students interested in studying humanities in the last few years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Washington Post recently reported that nearly 20% of college graduates regret the major that they chose, with humanities graduates showing the most regret at nearly 50%.
Traditionally, majors like English, philosophy, world languages and history are under the umbrella of humanities studies, said Christopher Long, the dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University. However, colleges are broadening their humanities programs to include arand gender studies majors.
“I regret majoring in English because I don’t think that Michigan State taught me anything,” said Kendyl Claxton, who graduated last May with a bachelor’s degree in English and a concentration in creative writing.
She said she took the classes because they were required, but they didn’t provide her with a better understanding of how to pursue a writing career with that degree.
“It just didn’t teach me anything that I could have used towards English,” she said. “There were no programs in the writing major that introduced me to other writers.”
Claxton currently works as the member relations coordinator for Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield. Most of her job consists of marketing events and recruitingmembers. Although she wishes she could use her degree more, she doesn’t think she’ll use it at all.
Less than 10% of college students major in humanities, according to the Hechinger Report, a New York-based publication that covers education inequality. That is a 25% decrease since 2012.
About 1,730 students were enrolled in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters in the fall of 2012. By fall 2020, that number had decreased to nearly 1,300 students. The college includes majors like English, philosophy, women and gender studies, professional writing, global studies and humanities and interdisciplinary humanities.
There was a decline in enrollment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Long said.
“The data shows that while liberal arts and humanities students often begin their careers with lower starting salaries, if you look 10 and 15 years out from graduation, liberal arts students are outperforming their peers,” he said.
The job search for students studying humanities can be more challenging compared to other majors, said Malorie Albee, an assistant professor of anthropology at Northern Michigan University.
“Any university can focus on letting students know what they can do with a degree in humanities,”Albee said. “I think this is something people think of as a passion project or something that they are interested in, but you can do real things with it besides just work in academia.”
Before becoming a professor, Albee worked with the Ohio Department of Transportation to ensure that its projects were not affecting historical and archaeological sites.
The emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors is another contributing factor to the decline in students studying humanities. That’s unfortunate, she said.
The decline in enrollment “may be related to the emphasis on STEM and not considering some of these humanities as STEM, even though anthropology is a science,” she said. “I think that sometimes these social sciences are considered separate from ‘hard science’, but we’re definitely still doing science.”
“There are opportunities to combine anthropology with other majors like biology, chemistry, anatomy and Indigenous (studies) that can really set the student up for success. As long as we are transparent about what those job opportunities are,” she said.