Opinion

The need to protect liberal arts

university of wisconsin.jpg

Students attending University of Wisconsin protested the administration’s decision to cut 13 liberal arts majors amid declining enrollment rates. (Courtesy of Glen Moberg/WPR)

By BETA BEHPOOR
Staff Writer

Last month, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point proposed to drop 13 humanities and social science majors, including American studies, art, English, French, geography, geoscience, German, history, music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish. Attributing this decision to declining enrollment rates in these humanities courses, the university also plans to add and expand 16 other programs that “have demonstrated value and demand in the region” (according to the University of Wisconsin), which include marketing, management, computer information systems, graphic design and aquaculture. Although the administration portrays these changes as ways to provide new opportunities to students and to address lower enrollment rates, the students view the program cut as the exact opposite: proof of their university’s decreasing interest in a liberal arts education and an opportunity to lay off faculty under the new rules that weakened tenure.

The discontinuation of these courses may seem far-fetched, but the University of Wisconsin has addressed an unavoidable fact of our modern world: the decreasing employment of liberal arts and humanities majors in the job market. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics state that from 2012 to 2022, employment in occupations related to STEM is projected to grow to more than 9 million, while from 2008 to 2016, there was a 14% decline in enrollment in the humanities and an 8% decline in enrollments for social sciences. STEM has completely dominated the job market, and the University of Wisconsin has this underlying reason to drop their humanities courses.

The steadily decreasing enrollment rate of humanities majors and courses is mostly attributed to the fact that in the society we live in, liberal arts degrees are not deemed as useful to the majority of students that aim for successful professional lives. The growing job market in STEM fields means that if a student wants to be ‘successful’ (meaning financial stability), they would be encouraged to study STEM majors. After all, why would one want to major in a field, such as literature or history, that has less job growth than a STEM field like computer science?
With the way that our generation views success and happiness, most students will be more focused on a more direct route to financial stability, which is now viewed as majoring in a STEM field that has the greatest salary.

The problem with dropping humanities and liberal arts courses from curriculum is that they provide the skills necessary to launch successful careers. Instead of taking everything at face value, a student can learn how to think critically, analytically, and creatively. They learn how to communicate their ideas both on paper and verbally. Taking these courses allows students to develop a broad foundation of knowledge upon which they can build a variety of skills. Studying liberal arts doesn’t constrain a student into one option; instead, it opens up different doors and opportunities, and can lead to a wider range of careers than with a completely STEM education. Many well-known companies, such as United Health Care and Amazon, look to employ college graduates with English degrees, and lucrative job positions in marketing and communications, business analysis and research, sales and many more are open. Getting rid of humanities courses is more of a detriment to our futures as students and employed adults rather than a new opportunity for the student population.

Because of the selective attention universities have given to job employment statistics and majors that have the most enrollment and will make the most money, they have failed the student population in our right to a complete, well-rounded education. Taking away the liberal arts and humanities courses will detrimentally affect not only our future education, but also the foundation of our future jobs and any potential success. Instead of discouraging majors that supposedly don’t pay well or lead to future success, schools should instead emphasize the importance of humanities courses and majors for our futures.

 

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