Arts and humanities departments at universities nationwide have been on a steady decline, with lesser funding and a decrease in the number of students pursuing majors in these fields.
According to the EMSI, an economic modeling website, there has been a decrease of humanities students over the last decade; with there being just under 400,000 students pursuing humanities degrees from 2015 to 2016, as opposed to the 500,000 in previous years. In contrast, the number of students pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) degrees has been increasing with each year, going from 15 percent to 21 percent in the last five years.
Arts and humanities degrees are becoming less valued by the general population of students, and the funding for humanities programs have also decreased. In a February 2016 article, the New York Times published an article stating how many state officials believed funding for the arts and humanities was not as necessary because jobs in those fields are not as demanding and fewer students actually find jobs. This argument has led to many officials calling for less funding for humanities departments at universities all over the country.
Students in liberal arts programs have observed how their departments at their schools tend to differ from the STEM related programs, and many agree that they do not have the same resources as their STEM counterparts.
Emily Frobose, a senior studying Spanish at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said she has seen the difference between the buildings, resources and overall environment in the STEM classrooms, and the ones she learns in. Frobose said that because Illinois is well known for its College of Engineering, a lot of the state funding does go to that department. However, she has never found her education to be in any way lacking.
“Luckily, arts and humanities classes are equally as competent despite the attention that STEM majors are given,” Frobose said. “I have taken some amazing art, Spanish, and French classes with excellent professors.”
Alyssa Guzman, a senior studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, said she has “absolutely” seen that the university spends more on the STEM departments than on the liberal arts ones.
Guzman described how the English building at Iowa does not have windows that open, and there are other buildings in old, weak conditions. However, at the same time, an engineering building already in good shape got another renovation.
“I sometimes feel that the university values STEM students more because they are probably more likely to make a lot more money to donate the the university one day,” Guzman said. “I find the lack of care put into humanities buildings insulting because it’s as though the university is telling us that we aren’t as important as the other majors.”
Students in liberal arts recognize the importance of STEM fields, but they also see the importance of pursuing a degree in the humanities. Guzman said being in liberal arts has given her the opportunity to expand her intellect in ways she could not have otherwise.
She said she also been able to make a connection with her peers and her professors because liberal arts classes are more empathetic, whereas she has heard from her friends in engineering that their professors do not see them as anything more than names on exam sheets.
“The material we read also opens our eyes to topical and important issues that are worth contemplating, which therefore encourages students to think about how they can make a positive change in the world,” said Guzman.
Bizzy Emerson, a senior studying journalism at the University of Missouri, also said that liberal arts degrees can be useful in many ways, just not in the same ways as STEM degrees.
“I think more people should pay attention to humanities and arts because technology gives nearly everyone a platform to take part in those fields,” Emerson said. “We’re all participating in these areas in some way, so building a career out of that can be something really incredible and thought-provoking.”
Overall, there is some consensus from liberal arts students that their degrees are indeed important, even if they may not be according to standards set by STEM careers. Nushrat Jahan, a senior studying Public Policy at the University of Chicago, said there are many gaps that liberal arts students can fill that aren’t filled by STEM students, and vice versa. According to Jahan, it is important to consider the equal benefits of both in today’s society.
Jahan said it is easy for society to praise STEM careers because those fields can be “commoditized” and produced into something tangible; however, it is just as important to see the benefits that liberal arts degrees bring to society as a general.
“It is never useful to solely rely on the skills gained from a STEM training,” Jahan said. “There are useful skills gathered from art and humanities (self-expression, pedagogy, comprehension of complex thought) that can contribute to self-development in ways that STEM alone cannot.”
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