Recruiting for the Humanities

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With philanthropic monies flowing to the sciences, and sharp declines in the number of students declaring majors in the humanities (8% of US undergraduates in 2007, down from 17% in 1996, according to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences) as students increasingly look for disciplines linked to specific career outcomes, there is a growing sense in higher education that the future of studies in the humanities -- though the humanities are nominally core to a liberal arts curriculum -- is threatened.

"Within the general college-bound public, the understanding of the liberal arts is fuzzy at best and distorted at worst. Despite our best intentions, noblest desires, and most sincere efforts, the higher education community has been unable to educate the public about what the liberal arts represents."
W. Kent Barnds, Augustana College

Without underplaying the importance of enrolling and graduating more students in STEM fields, many university presidents have recently begun promoting the humanities in their speeches on campus and abroad, and some -- at institutions such as Cornell, Dartmouth, and Harvard -- are pledging to boost their efforts to fundraise for their literature and arts disciplines. There is still a critical question to address -- how can institutions recruit more students to the humanities, which traditionally offer "softer" career outcomes?

W. Kent Barnds, vice president of enrollment, communication, and planning at Augustana College, offers these strategies for institutions that have prioritized recruiting more students to their humanities disciplines.

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