Friday, September 21, 2018

Why Humanities are Declining in Universities

According to Fabio Rojas, the decline in humanities enrollments has nothing to do with campus politics or corporate-style management by administrators:
The actual answer lies in a trend that transcends any single college and that predates the culture wars of the 1980s: There has been a massive shift in student attitudes since the 1960s toward vocationalism. As student goals shift, so do their choices of majors. . . .

Simply put, college students today are less likely to say that they are attending school for the sake of knowledge. Instead, they are more likely to say that they want a college education to get a job.

We know about this increased concern for jobs from the annual College Freshmen Survey, conducted annually by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. The survey began asking a sample of American college freshmen what they valued in an education. In 1970, approximately 50 percent of respondents said that they were attending college to make more money. By 1994, that jumped to over 80 percent. The survey also asked respondents to choose which idea they valued—“develop a meaningful philosophy of life” or “be very well off financially.” In 1966, “meaningful philosophy” beat “well off financially” 95 percent to 45 percent. By 1996, the situation was reversed—“meaningful philosophy” had dropped to about 45 percent while “well off financially” jumped to 80 percent. Recent surveys show that things haven’t changed much in the early 21st century.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

As always, nice to see data backing up what seems like common sense.

In the 1960s, real wages were very strong and college tuition was very cheap. It was entirely possible, and indeed reasonable, to attend college without ever taking loans, working part time at minimum wage. The cost of pursuing knowledge for its own sake came was quite low, and rather affordable.

In contrast, more recent decades have seen cost of living continually rise while wages remain flat, and college tuitions have skyrocketed. Affording college became far more difficult and required a far larger financial commitment, thus necessitating a larger financial return on the investment.

It is largely no longer financially feasible to spend one's free time pursuing knowledge purely for its own sake - one must stand to make money off a potential college degree, often merely to break even from the cost of obtaining it, and only years later begin to actually profit off the investment.

Simply put, when people have the means to learn purely for the sake of learning, and so do without hardship, they will. But when economic concerns get in the way of things, people quite understandable don't value knowledge in and of itself.

I firmly believe that a big part of the reason so many people feel listless and unmoored in life these days is because they are deprived of the opportunity to freely pursue knowledge beyond what is needed to make money. When financial competition matters more than philosophical exploration, it seems natural that people will feel like their lives lack any meaning beyond the pursuit of wealth.