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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

FAU faculty defend liberal arts programs as national enrollment declines

Liberal arts programs offer transferable skills and effective learning strategies, FAU faculty say.
FAUs+University+Theatre%2C+an+extension+of+the+Dorothy+F.+Schmidt+College+of+Arts+and+Letters.+Photo+by+Eston+Parker+III.
Eston Parker III
FAU’s University Theatre, an extension of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. Photo by Eston Parker III.

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) has witnessed a reduction in enrollment rates for liberal arts programs, including social sciences and humanities, in recent years. This trend raises concerns about the future of these disciplines and their impact on society.

However, James Capp, the associate vice president for Strategic Planning and Student Success, believes the trend isn’t as prominent at FAU compared to other institutions in the country.

“Many institutions across the US are reporting declining enrollments, particularly among the liberal arts. This [trend] may be attributed to skepticism regarding the value of higher education,” said Capp. “Perhaps FAU has not seen enrollment declines like those across the country because our faculty members are dedicated to embedding our course offerings with professional competencies.”

FAU is home to around 23,460 undergraduate students enrolled for the current academic year. The enrollment statistics reported by Capp, show a decrease in enrollment for two majors concentrating in liberal arts education.

In the 2019-2020 academic year, 155 students enrolled in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies within the College of Arts and Letters. However, this year the number has decreased to 133 in the degree programs that offer various disciplines within the Arts and Humanities, such as history, philosophy, literature, languages and other specialized majors.

The Liberal Arts and Sciences bachelor’s program offers concentrations in humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The program’s enrollment soared from 476 students in the 2019 academic year to 281 the following year. This year, the number of registered students has further reduced to 253.

Capp attributes this shift to FAU administration establishing a Biological and Physical Science major in the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College in 2019, which divided science and liberal arts majors into separate departments.

Eric Hanne, the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the History department said the department prioritizes the curriculum of majors and needs of students for their careers and further studies, rather than focusing solely on enrollment numbers.

Hanne noted that history majors graduate in law, business, government, and other fields, with skills acquired from their education. 

Capp, an FAU alumnus, emphasized the benefits of a liberal arts education when studying public policy for his doctorate. His undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the Honors College provided him with essential professional competencies, including communication and research skills. 

According to Michael Horswell, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, alums of liberal arts programs have an advantage with the skills they have gained, such as creativity and critical thinking. Those skills can help them continue their education in graduate school or transition to leadership and managerial positions with high salaries.

Studies demonstrate that Liberal Arts majors often start with lower salaries, [$61,796 annually in Florida compared to] some graduates in professions like engineering or healthcare, but they catch up and often surpass many of their colleagues five to ten years out of college,” said Horswell.

Horswell also noted that the liberal arts program provides academics with skills such as data analysis, artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging trends to bridge the gap between the liberal arts and technical fields.

“Across the nation, many employers are seeking liberal arts majors due to the advent of generative [AI] technology. Liberal Arts majors typically have creativity and critical thinking skills required to prompt generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, to achieve desired results,” said Capp.

Horswell, who teaches Spanish and Latin American Literature, underscores that all students from diverse backgrounds should have access to a liberal education, stating it’s the foundational discipline of the university.

“Humans need to practice not only the hard skills of the professions but critical life skills like developing empathy, communicating across differences, and learning from the past,” said Horswell. “The mission of the liberal arts is to prepare citizens to participate in and lead our democracy while finding personal fulfillment in life.”

Michael Cook is a Staff Writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].

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Eston Parker III, Lead Photographer
Eston Parker III is the Lead Photographer for the University Press and previously served as the Photo Editor for the UP. He is a multimedia journalism major and has been published by various outlets including Sports Illustrated and the Palm Beach Post. You can email him at [email protected] and [email protected] or message him on Instagram @etpiii. www.estonparkeriiimedia.com

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    KaylaFeb 21, 2024 at 4:09 pm

    As an interdisciplinary student, this is such a cool topic/article!

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