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Arts and Humanities enrolment on the decline at Western University | CBC News

Fewer undergraduate students are enrolling in the Arts and Humanities (A&H) faculty at Western University in London. Ont. Enrolment has dropped by 28 per cent over the past decade. 

The university says that in the 2020-21 academic year, the A&H faculty had 877 students enrolled. This year, it’s down to 853. 

The faculty consists of 16 programs with the most popular being English, Visual Arts, French, and Philosophy. 

On the other hand, the number of students taking these courses as electives — which are optional to satisfy degree requirements — has been on a steady increase in the past three years. 

These numbers suggest that while students are interested in studying A&H courses, they don’t necessarily pursue degrees in them. Why is that?

Misconceptions around the value of an A&H degree 

Breanna Mifsud is an aspiring teacher who studies English at Western. She says that there’s a stigma around A&H graduates not getting well-paying jobs.  

“We’re not taught about different jobs you can get with this degree, I was really pushed toward math and sciences in high school, so what I know about the value of my degree is what I researched on my own,” she said.

Breanna Mifsud (left) and her friend Mayah Berthiauni are both English majors who say there’s a huge stigma around A&H programs. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Michael Milde, the Dean of Western’s A&H faculty says the degree is invaluable. “It’s the study of what we are as human beings in a very deep and profound way, in which we find expressions of our humanity,” he said. 

Milde finds the biggest misconception about A&H is that graduates don’t get jobs as easily, which according to him, is simply not true. He says career options are limitless, and there are people with such degrees in almost every walk of life.

“There is a deflationary story that students get told in high school about what they can do with arts and humanities and they believe they won’t get work,” he said.

“Which is very sad because people are sent away from opportunities that will really enhance their satisfaction with what they learn.”

Life satisfaction over making the big bucks 

Sarah Tiller is a 4th year English Honours in Creative writing and literature, and she’s minoring in theatre studies. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Students in the A&H faculty say that a fear of not landing their dream job is a common one, regardless of anyone’s majors. 

For some, the skills they learn in university are more important than how much money they make. 

Sarah Tiller is a fourth year, Honours in creative writing. For her, the purpose of post-secondary is not just getting a job, but to just learn.

“I’m here because I enjoy education and I grow as a person the more I learn, especially in the arts and humanities,” she said. 

Tiller says her program allows her to be a better person by studying and questioning literature, and learning how to critically think about the world. 

Julia Piquet is an aspiring university professor who is an English Honours in Creative Writing. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Julia Piquet is an English and creative writing major which allows her to better articulate her thoughts, and pay attention to detail.  

“There’s so many people going into areas they don’t love for the sake of money,” she said. “If you love studying something, you should do it because it’s never a guarantee if you’ll get a job or not, nothing is guaranteed.” 

She adds that it can be really scary hearing that passion doesn’t pay but she feels passion is a key motivator in moving forward and having life satisfaction. 

A&H grads can be lost on where their career wants to go, employers say

James Norris is Sales Manager at Express Employment Professionals in London. He said that ultimately employers want to know if an applicant has the skills to do the job effectively, regardless of what degree they have.

Norris finds that there’s a disconnect between A&H graduates and how they perceive the job market. “They can be almost a little lost in terms of where their career wants to go,” he said.

“You have to be specific in terms of where you want to go and find the information so that you can be prepared for that specific area of industry.”

The Arts and Humanities (AHB) building at Western University. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Milde also echoes those sentiments. He says that because A&H career paths aren’t very linear, students can get overwhelmed.

“It’s a failure of imagination on people’s part, they don’t see how things connect, if you study accounting, you’re going to be an accountant…it’s a very direct path, but if it’s a more complex path, people fail to see what their possibilities are.”

He believes people should do better research about the present economic climate. He said it’s very important to make informed decisions based on what employers look for and what education and skills they can bring to the table.  

Norris added that A&H degrees very valuable, as long as graduates are able to gain different kinds of work experience, even if it’s not their ideal job right away. 

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