Here’s Why English as a Major Is Slowly Declining

The analysis by the Association of English, or ADE, part of the Modern Language Association, reports that Bachelors degrees conferred to English majors are down 20% since 2012.


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The peak for English majors was between 1991 to 2012, averaging about 52,684 per year, whereas between 1989 and 2016, the amount of English major degrees earned at American universities dropped to 42,868. The data from the National Center for Education Statistics and ADE’s reports other humanities fields falling as well.


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Thanks to the internet and social media, jobs for the English majors are created like never before in the blogosphere. Besides teaching or going to law school, there are jobs one can do for the English undergrad degree like writing for a company’s social media page or online news publications. There are positions concerning SEO (Search Engine Optimization), as well as marketing related, copywriting, and many more examples.


The committee said, “more expansively as one in English studies, a term intended to show self-aware hospitality to media, composition, rhetoric, film, cultural studies and other studies that reside in English departments at all types of institutions…”


“What may be surprising is the extent to which departments have not made digital and media studies visible parts of the major of the curriculum,” the committee wrote. “Their absence from English departments may be attributed to their presence in other departments may be attributed to their presence in other or to difficulties in staffing. For digital studies, skepticism still lingers in some quarters about the field’s usefulness.


“No doubt that electronic and other new media loom large in the landscape of reading, writing, editing, design, and (increasingly) literary study and that training in digital and related studies can only enhance students’ employment prospects,” the report says.


The committee agreed literary history needs to be revised. Kent Cartwright, an English professor at the University of Maryland, and chair of the Association of Departments of English Ad Hoc Committee on the English major wrote in an article about the weakness of the major:


“Courses that introduce students to literary studies tend to focus on close reading and on theoretical approaches to literature, not on literary history. We all know that undergraduates resist historical requirements, and one of the reasons may be that we have never really explained or theorized those requirements to students. So instead of simply abandoning historical requirements in response to student pressure, we would be well advised to explain and explore them in engaging ways.”


The required Shakespeare classes for the Ph.D. and Bachelor’s degree institutions decided to replace it as an elective. Shakespeare remains a requirement for the Master’s degree program institutions. Poetry meant well across all of the institutions as well as African-American literature, postcolonial literature, Anglophone literature, global literature, and gender and sexuality literature. One of the strengths within the English program is celebrating African-American literature in particular, and championing diversity and insight.


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Peter Kalliney who is the associate chair of English at the University of Kentucky for five years since 2012 gave his perspective in relation to the subject matter.


“Your most important students are not your majors,” said Peter Kalliney. “This is about changing the teaching culture.” And added, “If faculty and graduate students teach fun, effective courses to nonmajors, we are going to turn a few heads in the process toward becoming majors,” Kalliney said.




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