40 years of college majors

NPR has a wonderful interactive graph that allows you see what % of students were majoring in a particular topic from 1970 to the present. A few lessons are clear. The NPR article notes the rise of business and the decline of education. Health is also on the rise.  A few other trends are also worth noting. Nearly all social science and humanities have declined in both relative and absolute numbers. Sociology is typical. In 1970, 34,000 graduates accounted for about 4% of the total. The number has declined to 30,000 for about 1.8% of the total.

Some exceptions are easy to understand. Computer science increased eight fold in relative size. Other exceptions are puzzling. In a world of shrinking journalism, how are communications and journalism getting more students? Is it driven by the modern media environment?

Concluding note: This is brutal news for the graduate education in the arts and sciences. They’ve built themselves on a model of hiring many PhD students so they could teach massive lectures. At the big public flagships, where most doctoral education happens, this is sustainable. The problem is graduation – the jobs are simply not there as people have collectively shifted from arts and sciences to vocational majors.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz


Written by fabiorojas

May 12, 2014 at 1:57 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. To answer your question regarding why communications and journalism are gaining, two letters: PR. Sadly it is not because students want to better inform the world, it is because students want to better inform in behalf of the corporate world. Why this field as opposed to a business marketing degree is puzzling. It would be interesting to learn if there are combined degree programs with journalism and communications.


    P. Lee

    May 12, 2014 at 4:47 am

  2. @P. Lee – I think it might have as much to do with the professionalization of journalism (this is just a hypothesis based on my anecdotal impression) in the sense that a degree in journalism has become increasingly necessary to pursue a career in the field.

    Interestingly, I know a few people who got degrees in journalism and went into PR only reluctantly after being unable to find jobs in journalism.



    May 12, 2014 at 5:28 am

  3. I think a lot of advertising jobs go through communications. Not quite the same thing as PR, although related.


    brayden king

    May 12, 2014 at 5:51 pm

  4. I dont completely agree with the last sentance (“the jobs are simply not there as people have collectively shifted from arts and sciences to vocational majors”). OK sociology had its golden age in the late 60s/early 70s (followed by a huge crisis in the next ten years), but I’m not sure that the current situation is as bad as it seems, because:

    – the percentage of soc majors is been more or less steady since the early 90s, and the absolute number of soc graduates has increased – we’re back at 1975s levels.
    – I guess that the new/vocational majors (health, business, criminal justice, communications) have mostly expanded in newer/lower ranked college, so the bulk of the large-public soc students of the 70s is probably still there. A confirmation of this is that professors in these newer college hold PhDs from these places (R1/flagship state) where most of the doctoral education takes place.
    – these new programs (esp. business, criminal justice and even communications) do hire soc phds.

    I agree that the competition is tougher than 40 years ago (and even than 20 years ago, when soc departments replenished) but recent changes do not seem so drastic, at least based on NPR’s graph.



    May 12, 2014 at 10:25 pm

  5. The share of majors in business is 15% lower in 2011 than it was at its peak in the mid-to-late 1980s — 21.4 vs. 25.1 Yes, there was a massive increase in the share of business majors between 1970 and the early 1980s, when the major was in its infancy, but thereafter it’s really a story of stability or even modest decline.

    The NPR blogger gets this wrong, too, in the notes. A classic example of observers seeing what they think they will see?



    May 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm

  6. oh I meant: professor in new/low/unranked colleges rarely hold R1 PhDs. Placements aren’t that bad.



    May 12, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: