“What’s your major?”
“Oh. What are you going to do with that?”
I’ve developed some deflective responses for this ever-present question in my life, like “yeah, nobody knows” or “shhhh, we don’t talk about that,” and it’s become kind of a fun joke. But I think the question itself shows the strong expectation operating in society that one’s major should, in itself, produce evident and abundant job opportunities.
This issue’s cover story, “The Economics of Arts and Letters,” evaluates how that relationship may have contributed to the 31 percent decrease in Arts and Letters enrollment at Notre Dame. As of this fall, Arts and Letters is the second largest college by enrollment for the first time in Notre Dame’s history. Our cover story explores some of the reasons for that shift. The association between jobs and majors, it seems, has not been favorable for enrollment in liberal arts majors across the country.
As an Arts and Letters major, I’m pretty experienced in defending my major and college (which I’m afraid is not a super marketable skill). The decline in enrollment to me doesn’t seem to indicate a devaluing of liberal arts education, though. Instead, it suggests a rising concern for job security and competitiveness. There is a very real perception, whether it’s true or not, that Arts and Letters majors struggle more to find jobs, especially high-paying ones.
As the nationwide trend leans away from liberal arts majors, the task of universities will become to help students majoring in the humanities bridge the gap between their majors and what they are going to “do” with them. I think Notre Dame offers several resources to help students do this.
Unfortunately, now that I’m a senior, “shhhh, we don’t talk about that” is no longer cutting it as an answer to questions about my future.
I’m afraid that for universities across the country, that answer is also no longer an adequate response to the declining number of students majoring in the humanities.
We hope this issue’s cover can help examine the future of liberal arts by looking at some of the concerns students and prospective students are weighing in making their academic decisions.