Why Are There So Many College Majors?

According to a recent blog post by Jeff Selingo of the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are a lot more college majors than there used to be.

There, is, however, no indication that students are any better educated or prepared as a result of all of these new majors. In 2010, he points out, the Department of Education updated its list of academic programs. Selingo:

More than 300 titles were added to the previous list from a decade earlier, a 22 percent increase. A third of the new programs were in just two fields: what I’ll broadly call health professionals and homeland security. It’s clear from looking at the list that the September 11th terrorist attacks and licensure requirements for health-care workers in many states played a huge role in the increase in majors in those fields.

There is nothing to indicate that Americans have become any healthier or more secure in the last decade. What do people do with such degrees, other than obtain the same jobs they used to be able to hold without college degrees or certificates?

Other fast growing fields were biology and biological sciences and foreign languages and linguistics, according to an analysis that the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University did for me.

Why is this happening? According to Selingo, common theories are, first, that “colleges are responding to the labor market” and, second, that “colleges need to create new programs to drive demand.”

These things seem rather closely connected. If there’s something going on in the world people are talking about, say, computer gaming or terrorism, academic institutions want to be a part of that. The world’s concerns create jobs. When academic intuitions see jobs, they see the need for academic programs to service those jobs.

This is true whether or not the academic programs are necessary for people to perform effectively in such jobs.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer