Majors on campus see decline in enrollment

Select majors on campus, primarily languages and music, have seen a decrease in enrollment recently which has impacted course availability for students. Dean of the School of Social and Natural Sciences Dr. Benjamin Greenstein, and Dean of the School of Humanities and Education Dr. Jeffrey Meriwether commented on this and what this means for the future of this liberal arts university.

“I’ve been here 20 years, and you see an ebb and flow in programs, and not just in programs within schools, but all the programs that a school offers,” Meriwether said.“It depends on what’s going on in the marketplace, it depends on national trends. In the case of languages, nationally, language enrollments are down.”

Meriwether added, “It’s not about languages in particular or another program, in particular, it’s about the changing face of undergraduate education.”

As for why this is happening, Meriwether said, “I think that especially right now, there is a lot of emphasis on the professional fields, and I think that there are some professions that are doing quite well.”

“It’s a perception thing, I think. The idea is that ‘what am I going to do with a degree in history if I can’t get a job in history?’ Well, the thing is, you can major in marine biology and not go into marine biology. The same is true with history, and philosophy,” Greenstein said.

Both deans emphasized the importance of non-discipline specific skills and employability that come from a liberal arts education. Meriwether said that they tell incoming students and parents that employers value collaboration and people who have interdisciplinary experience.

Greenstein said the humanities feel like soft skills that employers think hires should be able to do.

“I think that the focus nationwide is on workforce development. And the irony here is that, if the focus is on training students to be employable to do X, part of that is training them to do these things that aren’t necessarily channeled toward one thing or another,” Greenstein said. “It allows for this cross-pollination. Innovation occurs at the intersection of these disciplines.”

Meriwether and Greenstein also said that undergraduate education, in general, is changing, but that RWU is prepared for this using the university’s Strategic Action Plan, which focuses on academic excellence, engaged learning, student success, a thriving community and sustainable futures.

“I think that we are similar to many campuses that have spotted the changing nature of higher education, the demographic, the changing demographics of higher education, and therefore we are responding quite nimbly to these changes,” Meriwether stated.