Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Liberal Arts are Actually Up!

I want to highlight the work Bill Wresch did for us last week in the comments.  He found statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (this link goes to a chart) that show that liberal arts majors are actually increasing:

Here are some changes since 1985 -
Total graduates - up 50%
ethnic studies - up 160%
performing arts - up 123%
psychology - up 116%
liberal arts - up 110%
philosophy - up 87%
biology - up 85%
comm/journalism - up 77%
history - up 72%
English - up 61%

Business - up 34% (less than the 50% general growth)
Computer science - up 12%
math - down 9%
physics - down 9%
engineering - down 14%

As she shows us, students are moving toward the liberal arts quite significantly.  What does this mean for the entire LERT initiative?  Are we preaching to the choir? 

Does that mean there is some sort of hidden agenda behind the larger liberal arts initiative of the AAC&U?  Our hidden agenda is really general education reform, but that isn't much of a secret.

Is the broader initiative really about different standards or more testing, using Liberal arts as a cover?


Mike Briley said...

Am I the only one who thinks the more interesting story might be "proportion of students graduating in computer science, math, physics, and engineering down significantly over the last 20 years?" Does that worry anyone, or is it just me?

Disclaimer: Yeah, I'm in the Physics/Astronomy department. And I'm a fan of LERT. And I'm very concerned about our gen-ed program and how it has moved away from the idea of a liberal arts education.

But I also can't help but look at the numbers and, well, I get concerned.

Bill Wresch said...

Increasingly, students in my MBA classes are telling me their companies are outsourcing to India and China, not just to save money, but because they have trouble finding engineers and IT people available to do the work. One local company is starting to send their HR people into high schools to explain the needs in more technical/scientific fields. I am not sure things are desperate yet, but there are some shortages.

Anonymous said...

This is not new. US companies have been outsourcing engineering and IT jobs to India and China for years. They are also investing in research facilities in those countries which graduate an order of magnitude more engineers than the US. That is where future market growth AND future employees are. Lots of bio-enginnering as well and on of my friends in nano=technology thinks she has about five more years before her company shifts everything to Asia or Russia.

Bill Wresch said...

There is a long history of companies going where needed resources are -- whether it is water to turn wheels or coal and iron to make steel. Now the main resource seems to be talent, as Richard Florida and others have reminded us.

While we have access to national and international data to tell us where talent pools are emerging, it would be interesting to get comparable data for Wisconsin to see what talents we are creating here. We know we lag the nation in college gradutes, but we don't know much about the skill sets of those graduates. Unless we are prepared to assume that all college graduates are interchangeable, no matter what their major, it really would be helpful to know more about how our degree recipients are trending, and whether we have a pool of talent here that will keep businesses in the state.

Anonymous said...


The NCES data you cite provides the answer to your about what Wisconsin is doing in crude terms. The state figures for BA degrees conferred by
field is as follows:

* Humanities 14.4%
* Social Science 15.7
* Natural Science 8.3
* Computer Science/ 8.0
* Education 9.2
* Business 21.6
* Other # 22.7
(includes agriculture, natural
resources, health, communication,
journalism, law, library, parks-
rec-fitness-leisure, security,
public admin, social services,
family, transportation)

You can decide if you think this is the right mix of BAs for the state.

Jim Simmons