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To Code, or Not to Code: The Fall of Humanities at Universities

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Revelio Labs

9/20/22

The US labor market has changed over the last decade, and so have universities’ curricula and students’ major choices. But exactly how much has the college major landscape changed over the past decade?

The indisputable new superstar of college majors is Computer Science. Enrollment in CS has increased by 140% over the past decade! The other majors that increased in popularity were also vocational in nature: Nursing, Business, and Engineering. All other majors have seen decreases in enrollment, with the biggest losses in Sociology, Literature, and History.

Change in Major Uptake Over the Past Decade

This general trend suggests that universities are focusing more on subjects with a direct path to an occupation, and less on generally academic subjects such as liberal arts, humanities, or even classic STEM subjects. A portion of the increasing popularity of majors like nursing can be attributed to the general increase in the number of college students.

But there is also a real change in the distribution of majors away from more traditional majors towards Computer Science or Business. We were interested to see whether different types of colleges see different changes. Comparing the Ivy League to the biggest state schools, we see a larger increase in Computer Science and the displacement of other majors is more dramatic at State Universities. This is not surprising, given that public universities need to typically be more concerned about attracting students and meeting the skill demand in their local labor market.

Distribution of Fields Over Time

Even the best public schools need to adapt more than top private schools. UC Berkeley has seen much bigger shifts in majors compared to Harvard. The share of Computer Science students has particularly grown in the last 7 years at Berkeley, at the expense of other STEM majors as well as Liberal Arts.

Distribution of Fields Over Time

Key Takeaways:

  • The popularity of college majors has shifted substantially over the past years, with an astronomical growth of enrollment in Computer Science.
  • Overall, the profiles of Universities are becoming more vocational and less classically academic in the majors and subjects they offer.
  • Large state schools have been particularly susceptible to these changes, as they need to be able to attract large numbers of students, as well as serve the skill requirements of their local labor markets.

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