Monday, June 24, 2013

The Vanishing English Major

Verlyn Klinkenborg writes in The New York Times of The Decline and Fall of the English Major. He has four points:
  1. His students do not write well.
  2. That were they better grounded in the humanities, they would write well, or at least better.
  3. That the teaching of the humanities (or perhaps the learning) has fallen on hard times.
  4. That this is in part because of societal pressure on students to study more profitable fields.
I agree with much of what he has to say, but would add a fifth point: the societal pressure on students to study more profitable fields is strongly correlated with the cost of college. Mr. Klinkenborg writes
In 1991, 165 students graduated from Yale with a B.A. in English literature. By 2012, that number was 62. In 1991, the top two majors at Yale were history and English. In 2013, they were economics and political science.
Well, the freshmen of the Yale class of 1991 paid about $17 thousand in tuition, room and board; those of the class of 2012 paid about $47 thousand. Adjusted for inflation, the difference is smaller, for 1987 tuition in 2008 dollars is about $32 thousand: call it an 88% increase. Between the 1991-1992 school years and the 2010-2011 school years, average pay for a teacher in a secondary school increased in 2011 dollars from $54,615 to $55,241. A discrepancy like that in rates of increase could make a student think harder about majors.

(The inflation calculator is provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as are the statistics for teachers' salaries. The Yale tuition figures are from the Yale University Office of Institutional Research. Calculating the costs over four years, or the probability of a Yale graduate becoming a teacher in a secondary school, I leave as an exercise for the reader.)

1 comment:

  1. Yes. When I attended Catholic U. in the mid-1990s, tuition was around $18,000 a year. Now it's $18,000 per semester, which has far outpaced the rate of inflation. The cost was difficult for me to bear in 1998; it would be prohibitive now.