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An article written by Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University Benjamin M. Schmidt in the November 26, 2018 edition of Perspectives of History revealed that history has witnessed the sharpest decline in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded since 2011. The number of history majors has also fallen sharply. In 2008, there were 34,642 history majors. No major has witnessed a comparable drop in degrees awarded. In 2017, there were only 24,266.
Schmidt’s findings reveal that the decline can be found in all demographic groups, but is particularly severe among Asian American students and women. The reduced enrollment of women in history majors has resulted in women being more underrepresented among history majors than they are among all bachelor’s degrees than they were in the mid-2000s. In addition, the declining interest in history majors has occurred at institutions of all types. However, institutions where history was once a popular major have been hit especially hard.
Further, Schmidt notes that economic factors are not likely the principal driver of the declining enrollment in history majors. Instead, he suggests that a broader structural factor as to what majors can do for students is involved.
What would a persistence of this trend mean for society at large?
While there remains considerable uncertainty about the long-term, a country that produces fewer people with expertise in various history-related disciplines may find itself facing increasing difficulty in managing both the challenges and opportunities presented by ever-evolving geopolitical change. With the United States facing long-term structural fiscal challenges, this knowledge deficit could be amplified by the growing need for the federal government to achieve higher value for each dollar expended. Finally, there is a risk that the decline could prove sufficiently sustained to trigger a self-sustaining process where institutional capacity to offer outstanding history programs could erode.