Interesting article on how what is taught in college/university is often determined by student choice. This has been going on for a long time (that was the goal of land grant universities) and Kate Zernike of the New Yorks Times has a contemporary spin on the evolution of higher education in America.
The “a-ha” moment for this piece is the death of philosophy departments and the study of classics. The rise of business and entrepreneurship in the academe is highlighted as well. It is an nteresting piece that a childhood friend/PhD Political Scientist shared on Facebook. Here is a snippet.
Consider the change captured in the annual survey by the University of California, Los Angeles, of more than 400,000 incoming freshmen. In 1971, 37 percent responded that it was essential or very important to be “very well-off financially,” while 73 percent said the same about “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” In 2009, the values were nearly reversed: 78 percent identified wealth as a goal, while 48 percent were after a meaningful philosophy.
The shift in attitudes is reflected in a shifting curriculum. Nationally, business has been the most popular major for the last 15 years. Campuses also report a boom in public health fields, and many institutions are building up environmental science and just about anything prefixed with “bio.” Reflecting the new economic and global realities, they are adding or expanding majors in Chinese and Arabic. The University of Michigan has seen a 38 percent increase in students enrolling in Asian language courses since 2002, while French has dropped by 5 percent.
Of course, universities have always adjusted curriculum to reflect the changing world; Kim Wilcox, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Michigan State, notes that universities, his included, used to offer majors in elocution and animal husbandry. In a major re-examination of its curriculum, Michigan State has added a dozen or so new programs, including degrees in global studies and, in response to a growing industry in the state, film studies. At the same time, it is abandoning underperformers like classical studies: in the last four years, only 13 students have declared it their major.
Glad to see the debate continues, but many leading institutions (as highlighted in the article) continue to respond to the demands of society as determined by societies values. This is part of what makes America’s system of higher education to global leader and source of great opportunity for those who venture there.