The financial crisis of 2008 caused not only one of the world's most significant economic downturns in modern times -- it changed the shape and scope of what students study.
QZ recently reported on Northeastern University historian Benjamin Schmidt's analysis on the subject. He found disciplines including history, philosophy, English literature, and religion grew until 2008, and the abruptly fell off.
From 1998-2007, about 2 percent of graduating college students had a history degree. By 2017, it was 1 percent.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Schmidt wrote, "Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities… and related social sciences. [They] have not stabilized with the economic recovery, and they appear to reflect a new set of student priorities, which are being formed even before they see the inside of a college classroom.”
Instead of humanities majors, students choose studies with very clear career trajectories. In 2017, of the 20 majors with over 25,000 graduates, exercise science, nursing and other medical degrees, and computer science topped the charts.
Schmidt suggested the increase in more professionally focused degrees might have occurred due to the shifting demographics of the student population, as opposed to the financial crisis. But he found that it was not.
He found that humanities have dropped across the board.
Schmidt argues that this new trend might be dangerous. Why? It might not pay off. He explains that humanities majors do not make much less -- and sometimes make a lot more -- than those who study computer science and finance.
He also argues the humanities will almost certainly survive, despite the downturn. He says, "To admit that the humanities are in crisis doesn’t mean conceding that they are being driven extinct. It means, instead, that their place is diminishing, changing both them and the university as whole. The decisions and rhetoric around the humanities now have especial importance, as journals, libraries, and universities have to make new sets of decisions around what shape the new humanities will take."
Learn more about the humanities.
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