Losing our Humanity: Number of Students Pursuing Humanities Degrees Nationwide Plummets


Image Courtesy of BBC

By Daniel Formella

After the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an undesirable era of remote learning and as the debate over the solution to massive student debts rages on. Any college-aged individuals have raised doubts over the overall necessity of a higher education. These doubts have been magnified for non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) degrees, especially for studies in the humanities. The humanities are academic disciplines that seek to lift human culture, society, and thought closer to the ultimate truth; they include disciplines such as history, philosophy, English, and others. 

Across the country, the general disregard for the humanities can be seen as the number of students enrolled as humanities majors has been rapidly declining. According to Robert Townsend, the co-director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators project, from 2012 to 2022, the number of students enrolled as humanities majors in the United States fell by 17 percent. In the same time, the number of students pursuing English and history degrees decreased by one-third. This trend is not limited to the United States. Mr. Townsend found that four-fifths of the  38 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, primarily composed of developed Western democracies, reported shrinking humanities enrollments in the past decade.

Professor of history at the Catholic University of America, Dr. Árpád von Klimó is not surprised by the growing unpopularity of the humanities. Besides the pandemic coupled with economic problems, the professor states that there “is a growing insecurity and loss of trust [of] Western institutions,” leading to people losing “faith in the orientation which humanities can give.”

The question on everyone’s mind right now (especially for the STEM majors out there) is most likely, “Well, so what?” What does it matter if we have more engineers and fewer philosophers?

At the Catholic University of America, one of the school’s primary aims is to give the humanities a place to thrive. As CUA’s website states, “the University accords priority to religious and philosophical studies and to those programs which advance the Catholic tradition of humanistic learning and which serve the contemporary and future needs of society and the Church.” 

Dr. Kevin Rulo, clinical assistant professor of English and the director of the University Writing Center, recognizes Catholic University’s mission to preserve the humanities: “The humanities are needed now more than ever.” As the study of humanitas is concerned with “what a human being is and how political, social, and cultural life should be ordered,” it goes without saying that our communities and country should be able to look to humanistic studies to provide thoughtful reflection and answers.

As Dr. von Klimó questioned, “how [can we] face a world in which machines, robots, [and] artificial intelligence is becoming more important without having a clear idea about what humans are?”

“I do not think it is a coincidence that many who are in stable jobs and economic situations suffer from a lack of meaning in their work and commitments,” said Javier Mazariegos, a senior philosophy major at CUA, on the lack of education in the humanities.

Yet to every alarming trend, there is also an upside. “On the other hand, those students who are still interested in the traditional disciplines seem to be much stronger and more sincere about their choice,” said Dr. von Klimó. “We have really great students who are not disturbed by these negative trends in the humanities.”

As the humanities are abandoned at other educational institutions, Catholic University says that it will seek to serve as a bastion of humanistic disciplines, “especially when these are not represented elsewhere.”

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