Recruitment and Retention of Majors in the Humanities and fine Arts: The Bait and Switch in "Higher" Education

By Colin Irvine.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The problem is that the Humanities are being marginalized within colleges that should be protecting and nurturing them. In many instances, this is because tuition-driven liberal arts colleges are redefining themselves our of a perceived sense of exigency. Professional studies, business, and “technical” programs have recently experienced growth even in traditionally liberal arts settings. For example, at our college, “Business,” a major that did not exist twenty years ago, is now the most common choice of incoming students. Consequently, the Humanities exist primarily to serve the needs of the more “practical” programs at once enabling the college to continue billing itself as a liberal arts institution. This implicit purpose appears substantiated by the fact that many students—especially first-generation college students and immigrants from developing countries—are succumbing to the dual pressures of parental expectations and the institutions own branding of what it offers for the students’ practical benefit. Hence, while general education programs pay lip service to a “grounding” in the liberal arts, liberal arts disciplines struggle to attract and keep majors. Why are these changes significant and why, moreover, are they timely and telling?—because these liberal arts institutions are beginning to appear false to their students, to their faculty, and to themselves. In essence, they represent a kind of bait and switch common to car lots but, until recently, not so common to colleges. Drawing on their reputations as liberal arts colleges, these institutions invoke a host of symbolic associations when applicants decide to attend and when professors elect to apply for tenure-track positions. In turn, they deliver something essentially different upon the students’ arrival or the professor’s commitment to the college. What does this essay purport be done? It contends that we need to investigate and analyze signs and symptoms of this shift occurring in cash-strapped institutions away from the Humanities; we need to recognize and recon with how this shift informs and infects particular courses; and, finally, we to reconsider and redefine the role of the Humanities professor, making room in the role for the professor as recruitment and retention deputy in the Office of Admissions.

Keywords: Humanities Marginalized, Tuition-Driven Liberal Arts Colleges, Admissions, Composition, General Education Programs

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.23-30. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 525.260KB).

Prof. Colin Irvine

Participant/Co-Author, Assistant Professor, English, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

We are a group of like-minded, self-selected faculty and staff who has studied the trends in enrollment and major selection of incoming students here at Augsburg College. Our initial analysis has fed our concern that students need to be encouraged and enable to consider early in the recruitment and admission process studying in the humanities. We believe that the college, like of others of its kind, needs to enhance and coordinate efforts to help students who are so inclined to identify and pursue their interests in the Humanities and Fine Arts. We are investigating the challenge of getting potential Humanities and Fine Arts majors to heed the call of their vocation (to use the language of our Lutheran institution) given the pressures of “practical” education felt by a significant portion of the college’s incoming student population. Our research and the documents we have produced examine the benefits of practical and easy-to-implement strategies designed to help students understand the value of our college’s expressed commitment to a liberal and practical education, and our work aims to show how implementation of certain strategies can be coordinated within and across departments by means of significant logistical support from the Department of Admissions and from the administration.


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