Which degrees are undergraduates pursuing?
We’ve been tracking enrollment patterns for a while, and a new Bloomberg article offers no surprises. Justin Fox parses NCES data to find that while the humanities decline, business and health care are booming.
The time frame is “Selected years, 1970-71 through 2016-17,” and the pattern is a familiar one. Fox offers the top 10 undergrad majors in two academic years for contrast, starting with 1970-1971:
Compare with 2016-7:
Fox points out the continuity of business (funny, I thought Boomers only took classes to find meaning in life…), the decline of the humanities (English just vanishes from the second list), and the rise of health care. He observes that “[t]he most significant development of this century, meanwhile, has been the rise of the health professions…” Note, too, that biological and biomedical majors are also in the health realm. I was also struck by the drop in education:
I’d like to dig into that education decline at some point. How much is due to women starting being able to choose majors other than education and the humanities in the 1970s and 80s? Fox notes that some of these fields pay much better than teaching K-12, notably medicine (“Of the 238,014 bachelor’s degrees in health professions and related programs awarded in 2016-2017 (about half were in registered nursing), 84 percent went to women”). How much is due to the stresses of waves of schooling reform? Have demographic changes – i.e., aging – already been felt in this way?
Fox’s article leaves us with a way for colleges and universities to think about departments, curriculum, and strategy. He helpfully aids that quest with another chart:
Again, no surprises here, but useful data. STEM fields really stand out here, and not just in allied health. Homeland security also appears in the top three; I note, although Fox does not, that the United States is approaching the 20th year of the war on terror, and this is clearly expressed in some students’ selection of majors.
What does American higher ed look like if we extrapolate these trends forward ten years? Twenty?