Humanities majors lose popularity

Tyler McNulty and Alyssa Coleman

More Pitt-Johnstown students are engineering majors than any other major category.

Humanities majors number the fewest of the seven academic divisions.

According to Pitt-Johnstown Registrar Christian Stumpf, 720 are majors in the Engineering and Computer Science Division, while 150 are in the Humanities Division.

Stumpf also said there are 543 Natural Sciences Division majors, 471 Business and Enterprise Division majors and 214 Education Division majors and.

There are 230 students majoring in each of the Nursing and Health Sciences and Social Sciences divisions, he said.

“This is not the number of students in each division, but the number of majors. If a student has two or more majors, they are counted more than once,” Stumpf said.

He said if a student is a double major in biology and English literature, the student would be counted in the Natural Sciences and Humanities divisions.

Humanities Division Chair Michael Stoneham said the lack of interest in a humanities degree is due to lack of public celebration.

“Humanities aren’t necessarily celebrated in this nation,” Stoneham said, “The public tends to celebrate nursing, business, and engineering more.”

Stoneham also said that interest is determined by salaries.

“That initial salary for a new graduate is a deciding factor (for enrollment). Although someone with a humanities degree can make a lot of money in the long run, students tend to choose a profession where the initial salary is great.”

Martin Rice, Philosophy Department Chair, says Pitt-Johnstown could do more to celebrate the humanities.

“Pitt-Johnstown advertises and promotes things like nursing, business and engineering more than anything,” Rice said, “And, whenever administration needs to save money, the humanities division is the first division to have funds cut.”

At least one philosophy class is required for students majoring in the humanities, and Rice said that students are initially not interested due to their lack of exposure to it.

Rice also said that students can benefit greatly from the humanities.

“It gives students a broader world view. It exposes them to logic and critical thinking that no other discipline can give them.”

Stoneham said division majors have seen a slight decrease of two students from last year.

“It reflects a trend in higher education where more students are studying liberal arts outside the classroom than inside. (Pitt-Johnstown) is no exception,” Stoneham said.

He also said 37 students have declared a Humanities Division minor within the past year.

Stoneham said he thinks the increase is a good gain.

“I think we’ll see even more (minors) with the revision to the general-education requirements,” Stoneham said.

He said, with the change, it makes it easier for students to have a minor.

Although there are 720 majors in the Engineering and Science Division, it wasn’t always that high.

According to Division Chair Jerry Samples, when he first started 22 years ago, the number was a little over 200.

He also said he doesn’t think engineering is a popular major just at Pitt-Johnstown, but everywhere.

“(The major) is hard, but when you get out, you get a job,” Samples said.

He said he thinks the number went up because of demand for engineers.

“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a push for engineers, and people would say engineering is a good direction to go,” Samples said.

Samples also said division professors are able to produce quality graduates and have a welcoming aspect within the division.

Mechanical engineering technology senior Sydney Hamilton said she agrees that there’s a welcoming environment.

“(The major) is very small, so all of my professors know me by name. It also means when I go to their office hours, I’m meeting with a person who knows me and how to help me,” Hamilton said.

She also said when she first toured Pitt-Johnstown, she had a personal meeting with Samples, who was able to answer questions.

According to Samples, this is something he, or someone within the division, does with all prospective students.

After they meet prospective students, Samples said division professors send a letter and a business card to the student.

Stoneham said he thinks the number of students is going down in the Humanities Division for a couple of reasons.

“In our culture, we’ve seen a lot of attention to majors focused in technology or engineering,” Stoneham said.

He said there’s a direct correlation between those majors and a job.

“A nursing student is going to become a nurse, and an engineer is going to be an engineer,” he said.

Stoneham said there are at least three ways to increase students within a division. He said the first is to provide an excellent class experience.

“A great teacher inspires students and helps them become aware of disciplines (within a division),” Stoneham said.

He said the second way is to help students understand things they don’t know and to make a connection between a major and a job.

“The third way is to unapologetically celebrate the joy of studying within a discipline,” Stoneham said.