What Should Historians Be Thinking About–Part 2

Boyer classroomRead the entire series and get some context for it here.

In Part 1 of this series, I asked what historians should do when they no longer have students to teach.  In this post, I wonder why they don’t have any students to teach..

Here are some thoughts:

1. It’s the economy stupid. Parents are afraid that their kids can’t do anything with a history major. In this economy parents do not want to spend money on tuition and room and board at an expensive private college if their kid is going to major in history. This is an old story, but I am hearing a lot more of it lately.

2. Christian colleges are not very good at recruiting humanities students. Few admissions officers can speak the language of the humanities  This is largely because admissions officers are alums of the schools for which they recruit.  If the college does not have a culture of the humanities and is driven largely by pre-professional majors, admissions officers will make pitches to prospective students with the goal of recruiting them for specific programs and careers.

3. The pool of kids who are interested in the study of history and the humanities is drying up. Christian colleges and other small colleges, a lot of which are tuition-driven, are struggling financially. Many Christian college administrators are working hard to keep the doors open. In order to survive they must create programs that attract student (and parental) interest so that they can stay financially solvent.  These include online courses, continuing education programs, and cash-cow masters degrees.  Administrators also realize that majors like nursing, engineering, business, and other service-oriented majors fill seats.

4. Trends in evangelical institutions of higher education tend to mirror the culture at large. And the culture at large is not helping.  Barack Obama celebrates STEM fields. Governors and presidential candidates mock the humanities.  Americans, to their detriment, seem unwilling to invest in the humanities disciplines.  We are now largely educating 18-22 year-olds for our capitalist economy and not for our democracy.  If you think the 2016 election has been bad, this is only the beginning.  We will reap what we sow.

So what should be the purpose of college?  We will discuss this in Part 3 of our series.

One thought on “What Should Historians Be Thinking About–Part 2

  1. I daily have to remind one of my colleagues (a history teacher, no less) that STEM is not necessarily an ally of the humanities. I’m also starting to see fundamental philosophical differences between those with social studies teaching degrees and those that started with a straight history degree and worked from there. Personally, I advocate HEART (Humanities, Ethics, Art, Rhetoric, Teaching).


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