Like many humanities advocates, Abbey Drane was disheartened but not surprised when Florida’s governor recently said its tax dollars should bolster science and high-tech studies, not “educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology.”
Drane, a 21-year-old anthropology major at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has spent years defending her choice to pursue that liberal arts field.
And now, as states tighten their allocations to public universities, many administrators say they’re feeling pressure to defend the worth of humanities, too, and shield the genre from budget cuts.
One university president has gone as far as donating $100,000 of her own money to offer humanities scholarships at her school.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s comments last month cut to the heart of the quandary: whether emphasizing science, math, and medical fields gives students the best career prospects and a high-tech payback to society, and whether humanities fields are viewed as more of an indulgence than a necessity amid tight budget times.
“You can definitely feel the emphasis on campus, even just based on where the newest buildings go, that there is a drive toward the sciences, engineering and (the) business school,” said Drane, a senior from Plymouth, Mass. “I’m constantly asked what job opportunities I’ll have in anthropology or what I’m going to do with my degree, and I tell people that it’s giving me a skill set and critical thinking you can apply to anything.”
Humanities studies peaked in U.S. colleges in the 1960s and started dwindling in the 1970s as more students pursued business and technology and related fields. Today, more than 20 percent of each year’s bachelor’s degrees are granted in business; in humanities, it’s about 8 percent.
Liberal arts colleges, too, have declined. A study published in 2009 by Inside Higher Ed said that of 212 liberal arts colleges identified in 1990, only 137 were still operating by 2009.