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Arts and Sciences Faculty Advisory Council seeks solution for declining humanities enrollment

Denny Check | Managing Editor of Design

Denny Check | Managing Editor of Design

Ohio State offers more than 200 majors that allow students to specialize in a myriad of subjects, but that could be in jeopardy as humanities majors have seen an enrollment decline, a trend that some believe could have long­-term consequences.

When the university published its strategic enrollment plan for 2012 to 2017, it outlined its goals to increase enrollment at OSU at no cost to the academic diversity. After examining enrollment data, the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Advisory Council has drafted a recommendation it believes will help the university fulfill that goal.

The chair of the ASC faculty senate, Tom Hawkins, explained the group’s desire for the university to reevaluate the enrollment policies.

“The kind of community we want to have here at this university is based on having a rich diversity of intellectual perspectives,” he said.

The recommendation that the group sent to University President Michael Drake, as well as Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Bruce McPheron, called for the university “to adjust its acceptance and recruitment practices so that all colleges and divisions of colleges at OSU are supplied with qualified students.”

“Changes in enrollment levels in particular disciplines can be due to a variety of complex factors,” university spokesman Chris Davey said in an email. “Managing enrollment and admissions at a comprehensive university like Ohio State is a complicated and dynamic process that we are constantly refining and improving, and the faculty are important partners in this.”

According to enrollment data compiled and analyzed by Alan Farmer, an associate professor in the Department of English, the number of university applicants has increased since 2012, including the number of students indicating a desire to pursue a humanities major. However, the number of humanities students admitted to the university has gone down while natural and mathematical sciences and social and behavioral sciences have increased.

This is not an isolated trend at OSU, though. Harvard University’s arts and humanities department published the Harvard Humanities Project in 2013, that found nationally, the number of humanities majors is decreasing.

While Harvard projected that its humanities majors would decrease from 24 to 17 percent of its students by 2016, the OSU faculty council projects its trend to be more extreme. Todd Thompson, a member of the Faculty Advisory Council and a professor in the Department of Astronomy, said he analyzed Farmer’s data and projected that there will be no humanities majors at OSU by 2019.

“We’ve been puzzled and concerned that even as the applications are going up, admissions in the humanities are going down, and significantly,” said Jill Galvan, an associate professor in the English department and a member of the Faculty Advisory Council who also worked on the report.

The acceptance numbers of humanities students has decreased since 2012, despite increasing acceptance numbers across the other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, natural and mathematical sciences and social and behavioral sciences. Overall enrollment in the humanities departments has decreased by 49 percent since 2010, according to Farmer’s report. This could have far-reaching effects beyond just fewer students in the departments.

“It’s good for people to know that our enrollments in an individual department are coupled to our budgets, and so a decline in enrollments leads to a decline in budget, leads to more decline and so it’s a quick spiral,” Thompson said about the long-term effects.

With fewer majors enrolled in the departments, there would be fewer courses offered through them. In turn, this means less revenue for those departments, creating further issues, according to the council’s findings.

In the report, the advisory council argue that the decline in majors could ultimately lead to the departments only providing general education courses without offering any of their own majors.

“Students who want to major in the humanities, I think they should be allowed to pursue that. They’re adults and they should be allowed to enter into the university pursuing what they have decided to do,” Galvan said.


  1. “Changes in enrollment levels in particular disciplines can be due to a variety of complex factors,”

    Factors are not complex. Some of bigger ones are
    1. low pay for humanities majors upon graduation.
    2. coupled with high cost of OSU education
    3. coupled with internal problems of the Arts & Sciences debt
    4. coupled with realization (just like law degree) that one needs a marketable degree to succeed today as a millennial.

  2. I graduated from The College of Arts and Sciences many years ago…sometime between the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel. Professionally, I built a career as a C-level executive in international market development. To get to the point; if OSU is looking inwardly to members of the faculty, or to senior level administrators to solve this problem, turn out the lights now. They lack the experience, the temperament, the drive and the skills required to turn the situation around.

    • So … a degree from OSU’s Arts and Sciences Program allowed you to become wildly successful, but you think that OSU’s faculty aren’t bright enough to help this situation?

      And if you haven’t been at OSU for years, then how would you know the first thing about the way the program is structured, or what its capabilities are? Please explain.

  3. This article unfairly makes it sound like there is a conspiracy against admitting humanities applicants. I believe the truth is that while the number of humanities applicants has grown, it has grown much more slowly than the number of applicants in the sciences and other areas. Consequently, the fraction of the class majoring in humanities is decreasing, and the total class size isn’t growing fast enough to compensate. It’s not that there is bias against humanities applicants, it’s that area is not considered. But deciding what students to admit based on the financial needs of departments seems very misguided. It will be a profound challenge for major university to maintain a rich humanities tradition with a budget model based on credit hours and not on judgement and priorities.

    • OSU has placed an emphasis on recruiting international students. I wonder how many of them come to the US to study Humanities? And, with the magnitude of student loan debt facing many graduates today, it should not be a surprise to anyone that they are pursuing degrees with a marketable skill and an income that will offer some ROI.

  4. Here is an example of marketability with an english degree. <$10/hour working for a tech company (Yelp). The salary itself is a reflection of how much the degree is valued by employer.

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