Humanities degree faces decrease but not at Kent State

Jillian Holness


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A study done from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences declares that bachelor degrees in humanities have declined by 8.7 percent from 2012 to 2014.

The study credits the decline due to trends such as the opening up of science and technology fields to women. However, undergraduate students pursuing humanities degrees at Kent State have stayed consistent and may even have slightly increased in the past two years.

Sandra Morgan, director of external affairs for the college of arts and sciences, thinks there could be a slight increase due to the heightened amount of global issues.

“I think that is primarily due to the growing of global issues and the need for more geo political understanding and certainly foreign language skills,” Morgan said.

David O’Dell Scott, associate dean of the college of arts and sciences and director of the center for integrative studies, said what constitutes humanities varies on institutions.

“For instance, art history would be in the humanities, but here it’s in the college of the arts,” O’Dell Scott said. “Rhetoric would be in the humanities but that’s in the college of communication. Economics is a social science but it’s in the college of business.”

There are currently 9,000 students enrolled in the college of arts and sciences at Kent State.

Eric Mintz, an associate dean of college of arts and sciences and a biology professor, said biological sciences, the study of all living things, has more enrollment compared to humanities.

“The department of biology is the largest in terms of number of majors because there are several different majors,” Mintz said.

The department of biology offers degrees in zoology, botany, medical technology and environmental and conservation biology. There are just over 1100 students enrolled in biological sciences.

Mintz said psychology is the largest single major in the college of arts and sciences with a total of 980 students this semester.

“The humanities, which would include English, philosophy, the languages and language translation, Pan-African studies and history have an enrollment total of a little over 500,” Mintz said.

Mintz thinks more students chose the sciences because they view it as a direct route towards a particular career.

“I would like to think of the humanities as preparation for anything,” Mintz said. “It gives you a good solid background for different types of careers.”

O’Dell Scott agrees that a degree doesn’t guarantee a one-track career path.

“A student in history may decide to go into business and do the MBA, or do a graduate degree in economics or go to law school,” O’Dell Scott said. “Does that count as a humanities degree related to a profession? The answer is yes.”

Laura Schentur, a senior Spanish translation major, plans on going to grad school for translation but also business.

“I might do this duel degree that Kent has. It’s a masters in business administration and translation,” Schentur said.

Schentur said she is worrying about not making a lot of money if she decides not to go to graduate school.

O’Dell Scott said what you do to add on to a bachelor’s degree will supplement income.

“It’s more people that earn the bachelor’s in humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and mathematics (that) are far more likely to earn a master’s or a Ph.D than those who go to a professional school,” O’Dell Scott said.

Most students don’t come to college planning to major in philosophy

“It doesn’t make sense to them. They have to take an introduction class in their freshman or sophomore year ‘Then they go wow, that’s really interesting,’’’ O’Dell Scott said. “This is fairly standard across the country. Most students discern what they want to study often times after they show up.”

There are studies out there about how humanities degrees are useless. O’Dell Scott and Morgan disagree.

Morgan, who has a background in French and art history, says it’s important to study what you’re interested in and build the secondary skills that come along with it.

“One of the things we know about people studying humanities, is it’s absolutely critical,” Morgan said. “It sharpens one’s critical thinking skills. You have to think critically (and) you have to be a good communicator in order to study the humanities. Many times your learning is centered around interpretation.”

Morgan said studying humanities also promotes teamwork and group activities.

“Collaborative communication and working together is really critical no matter where you work,” she said. “It’s one of those skills that’s polished within the humanities.”

O’Dell Scott said some of the highest scoring individuals for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) are philosophy and classical languages majors.

“A classics major may score higher than the norm,” O’Dell Scott said.

Humanities classes are not always easy.

“I have students who took my freshman level religion studies course who either complained or declared delightfully that it was (the) most difficult course they studied because they had to think so totally different than what they were accustomed to,” O’Dell Scott said.

The class studied religions of the world such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

“My students were rather taken (aback) when they were studying Buddhism because they had a hollywood idea of what it was, until they went to a local temple,” O’Dell Scott said. “The possibility to think differently than what you were accustomed to thinking, may prepare you for the world.”

For the next two years, O’Dell Scott said the increase or decrease of humanities degrees at Kent and world wide depend on politics.

“In Japan, the prime minister decided there is no need to teach humanities in Japanese universities. He is going to liquidate those department,” O’Dell Scott said.“I don’t expect we’re going to see any decline in humanities education. We’re starting to see ways in which our understanding of humanities is undergoing a major transformation.”

O’Dell Scott said Kent State has recently found a new program that deals with the neuroscience research of the advancement of the humanities.

“We look at how certain humanities studies and curriculum cognitively affect a person doing it,” O’Dell Scott said. “It’s a study to see how different humanities such as reading or writing poetry affect brain function.”

Morgan said studying humanities will always be relevant.

“The skill set that one develops, critical thinking, collaborative spirit, good communication and the ability to think will always be relevant for every instance and industry,” Morgan said.

O’Dell Scott said a strength of the humanities program is valuing thoughtfulness.

“Thoughtfulness has a double sense to it. You have to think and be able to think clearly. To be thoughtful is to intellectually and emotionally understand other folks,” O’Dell Scott said. “We live in a world that is often times not too thoughtful.”

Jillian Holness is the humanities reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected]