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Grim outlook for History: Number of BA graduates dropped 30% over the last decade

warblersrulewarblersrule 9980 replies170 postsSuper Moderator Super Moderator
edited November 2018 in Parents Forum
A new report by the American Historical Association indicates history has lost more students over the last decade than any other major discipline.

The other fields hemorrhaging the most students are all in the humanities -- philosophy, English, area studies, and religion. At the other extreme, computer science - which has seen an explosion of interest on CC - is second only to exercise science in growth among the disciplines measured.
Since the economic crisis of 2008, the pattern of undergraduate majors has been shifting across American higher education. Of all the major disciplines, history has seen the steepest declines in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded. In 2008, the National Center for Education Statistics reported 34,642 majors in history; in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, the number was 24,266. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of history majors fell by over 1,500. Even as university enrollments have grown, history has seen its raw numbers erode heavily. The drops have been especially heavy since 2011–12, the first years for which students who saw the financial crisis in action could easily change their majors; of all the fields I’ve looked at (Fig. 1), history has fallen more than any other in the last six years.

This represents a long-term low for the history major. National data on the numbers of degrees awarded in different disciplines generally start around 1966, but years ago, while working for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators project, I collected data on a number of humanities majors going back to the 1950s. While the 66 percent drop in history’s share from 1969 to 1985 remains the most bruising period in the discipline’s history, that drop followed a period of rapid expansion in share connected to the boom in higher education of the 1960s. The drop in the last decade has put us below the discipline’s previous low point in the 1980s (Fig. 2)...

The decline in history has struck all demographic groups, but some patterns do emerge (Fig. 3). The most pronounced losses have been among Asian American students, who were already underrepresented in history departments relative to their share of all students. The drop among white students, who make up 71 percent of history degrees and 58 percent of all BAs, is a bit lower. Hispanic students, who are represented among history majors at the same rate they attend college, mirror the overall trend. African American and American Indian/Alaska Native students—two other groups that are underrepresented in history relative to other majors—have seen the smallest declines.

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2018/the-history-ba-since-the-great-recession-the-2018-aha-majors-report
edited November 2018
98 replies
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Replies to: Grim outlook for History: Number of BA graduates dropped 30% over the last decade

  • CCtoAlaskaCCtoAlaska 579 replies4 postsRegistered User Member
    There is really not a lot outside of academia to do with a history major. And, within, the road to advanced credentials is long. It used to be seen as a pre-law degree but I'm not so sure that's true anymore.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77080 replies671 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited November 2018
    SJ2727 wrote:
    The different approaches in the US and UK interest me. In the US, it seems to be “I did a history major, what history job can I do?” In the UK, the emphasis would be on what they term transferable skills. So for example - I did a history degree, that means I am skilled in research: i pay attention to detail; I can synthesize a large volume of information into an appropriately brief, readable piece; I am able to examine and critically evaluate different perspectives and opinions to make an informed and balanced conclusion; etc.

    However, it appears that skills that are not obvious from credentials and which are not easily tested in job interviews are devalued during the hiring process, at least in the US. This includes many of the skills you describe, even though they are among the most valuable skills when actually doing many kinds of jobs. (Although note that students in many other majors, not just history, are supposed to learn and practice these skills.)
    SJ2727 wrote:
    It wasn’t that unusual to meet history and philosophy and languages graduates among the economics, finance and maths grads on an IB trading floor in the UK.

    In the UK, do jobs like IB or MC preferentially recruit from high ranking universities, like they do in the US? University-elitist employers may be using the elite university name as a proxy for those skills described above that are hard to test for (and perhaps other attributes, such as high SES socialization).

    But since US job hiring practices tend to focus on credentialed or easily tested skills that the applicant brings right now, it is not surprising that people in the US tend to perceive history as a "useless major" if one does not want to become a historian or history teacher, is one of the very few who attends an elite university that has a fast lane to IB or MC, or is headed to professional school (medical or law) afterward (where undergraduate major is of much lower relevance in job hiring processes). The same may apply to other majors that are seen as not being related to jobs bachelor's graduates seek.
    edited November 2018
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  • SJ2727SJ2727 1778 replies6 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    There was certainly a tendency for the humanities grads - at least the ones I knew + to come out of Oxbridge, but that may partly reflect the fact that such elite universities do a lot to help prepare those graduates for interviews and help them sell themselves on points like that, rather than just a recruiter going “Oxbridge, tick”. (I know this kind of thing does still happen in the US too, from a close relative recruited a couple of years back on to almost-wall street. But I don’t really want to veer into the debate hot on the other thread about what you actually “get” at an elite university. ) Certainly the general trend in the UK has moved to much wider recruitment - though it’s also worth mentioning that Oxbridge themselves work hard to get wider representation in the student body in the first place, working a lot to get disadvantaged students in and successful. Merit is always key. You’d never these days see a student admitted into Oxford or Cambridge because of legacy, or because the family made a big donation. In that sense, elite perpetuation is probably more limited than it is in the US at the moment (kind of ironic).
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  • simba9simba9 3247 replies20 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited November 2018
    At the other extreme, computer science - which has seen an explosion of interest on CC - is second only to exercise science in growth among the disciplines measured.
    Exercise Science - the new name for Physical Education. My son was an Exercise Science major until he realized that the only job he'd be able to get with it was personal trainer. And you only need to be able to count to 10 for that job. :))
    edited November 2018
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  • kitty56kitty56 1311 replies20 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    A lot of students have an Exercise Science major en route to the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.
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  • 3SailAway3SailAway 399 replies5 postsRegistered User Member
    @ninakatarina
    I suspect at least part of it is due to the atrocious way APUSH and AP World are taught today. They seem to be set up with the firehose model.

    I agree. My D21, who has always loved Social Studies and excelled in it, just hit AP Euro as a sophomore. I can't believe the level of detail required for every country/region in the entire continent of Europe, 1350-the present. Tomorrow, she has a "dates quiz" with literally 30 dates (1350-1700). Teacher will pick some, call out the event, and class has to write the exact date. No partial credit for the correct century. Nightmare for D21 who is dyslexic.

    I hope her love for the stories, trends, and characters of history will survive. APUSH is known to be far less memorization, and she will take that next year, so fingers crossed.
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  • mathmommathmom 32112 replies158 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I dunno, my kids managed to delve into some pretty weird pockets of history with APUSH and AP World. My son wrote a research paper about Gustavus Adolphus a 17th c general and king of Sweden. He was required to have and actually found a primary source to use - a diary of some Scottish mercenary whose account was at the NYC Public Library!

    @ninakatarina my son's girlfriend has a history degree from Wellesley, she was gainfully employed by an NGO for a year before deciding to go for a PhD. She seems to think there are a number of things she might do with the degree.
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  • doschicosdoschicos 20600 replies209 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    " It wasn’t that unusual to meet history and philosophy and languages graduates among the economics, finance and maths grads on an IB trading floor in the UK."

    Happens in the USA, too. You'll bump into plenty of history (and other humanities majors) on Wall Street. Ditto in the field of law.
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  • SJ2727SJ2727 1778 replies6 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    We immigrated just before D19 entered high school, and she knew just about nothing about US history...but she loved APUSH (and scored a 5), and same for AP Euro. She’s now very keen on history and is aiming at a course (international relations/politics) that complements history well. I’m not sure what is meant by how it is taught now, because I don’t know how it was taught before; but D has always been excited about her high school history classes and how they are taught, though I suspect she is lucky here to have had some very good teachers. She hated history class back in middle school in our home country...
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  • ninakatarinaninakatarina 1594 replies44 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Yes, I majored in history and I've had a pretty solid career though I focused mainly on computers. There is such a focus on STEM and preprofessional degrees nowadays, it seems. History helps you to recognize cycles, too. The skills a history degree teaches you won't go out of style. The fewer people have those skills, the more valuable those skills will become in the market.
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  • SJ2727SJ2727 1778 replies6 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    @doschicos , happy to hear that... pity more incoming students don’t seem to realize that there are many routes into many types of jobs.
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  • 3SailAway3SailAway 399 replies5 postsRegistered User Member
    @SJ2727
    I’m not sure what is meant by how it is taught now, because I don’t know how it was taught before; but D has always been excited about her high school history classes and how they are taught, though I suspect she is lucky here to have had some very good teachers.

    It may be teacher dependent. Did your D19 have "Dates Quizes" with nothing but events and exact dates? It's a significant portion of the grade. D's Euro teacher also doesn't do research papers (which D has loved in previous history classes, especially when you get to choose your topic).
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  • SJ2727SJ2727 1778 replies6 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited November 2018
    They did have dates quizzes, and that annoyed the heck out of her, but they did research papers too. I definitely remember a paper on the causes of WW1. She always said that her teacher made Euro really interesting. And it was probably a lot of the war stuff that got her more interested in IR, I think.

    I think there’s an analogy in economics (I’m an economist). Back when I did undergrad many moons ago, we spent a while on topics such as economic history, history of economic thought, and political economy as well. These days, an econ focused undergrad seems to mainly be math, math and more math. I believe that just like history, students today lose an important part of being able to recognize bigger picture things affecting cycles and understand stuff like before.
    edited November 2018
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  • 1or2Musicians1or2Musicians 1370 replies0 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    My D took world and US AP and I don’t think she ever had dates quizzes. Both of her teachers were excellent. Her World teacher was one of the most popular in school.

    I’m sure many teachers teach AP badly. Many HS teachers teach history badly, period. I was a history major I never had a particularly good history teacher until I got to college. Then history suddenly was really interesting.

    In that sense, maybe the prevalence of AP is a problem because students can avoid history in college with AP credits and thus never have a teacher who makes it interesting if they didn’t luck into a good high school teacher.
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