Kicking Unpopular College Majors to the Curb

Last Updated Nov 17, 2010 11:56 AM EST

In this era of crippling budget cutbacks, some university administrators are exploring whether their institutions could make due without some of their unpopular college majors.

We're talking about a heap of languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Latin, French, and college majors like the Classics and Philosophy.

I was reminded of this sad phenomenon this morning when I heard a National Public Radio segment on SUNY Albany, which has decided to axe some of its foreign language offerings. I was listening in my car as I headed to a meeting at the University of California, San Diego, which is a nationally acclaimed powerhouse of "useful" science and engineering majors.

SUNY Albany isn't the only school getting ready to kick some humanities majors to the curb. The governor of Missouri, where I grew up, has instructed the state universities there to recommend college majors to cut. Unpopular majors are also on the cutting block at Louisiana State and I'm sure at countless other schools.

What's Wrong With Ditching the Classics

The attack on the humanities is lamentable for many reasons. First, it's refreshing to see students who are excited about majoring in the humanities when so many colleges kids are flocking to business, which is the runaway No. 1 college major.

I also am saddened by the growing belief that to succeed and make money in life (too many equate those two things) you have to have a college major in something practical. My own daughter serves as an example of this phenomenon. She is a Spanish major, but she minored in entrepreneurial studies just to play it safe.

If you're interested in this topic, I'd urge you to check out a recent blog discussion over at The New York Times that had eight academics weigh in on what we lose when humanities departments are axed. You can read the discussion here:

Do Colleges Need French Departments?

I also think that humanities might be a more popular destination if student realized that a business major is nowhere close to being the best paying college degree. On PayScale's latest list of college degrees by salary, a business degree is way down on the list. Business is the 56th best-paying degree. Ahead of business are such college majors as philosophy, history and American Studies!

Ironically during my chat this morning with a UCSD administrator, he lamented that engineers -- could there be a more practical and lucrative major? - are so linear. What engineering majors need, he suggested, is a healthy exposure to the humanities. I couldn't agree more.

More on CBSMoneyWatch:

Top 20 Best-Paying College Degrees in 2010

20 Worst-Paying College Degrees in 2010

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
College majors image by Maistora. CC 2.0.

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