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University of Colorado Humanities Classes Dwindle

BOULDER, Col. ― Enrollment in arts and humanities classes at the University of Colorado is dwindling, mirroring a national trend that professors are trying to grasp.

Arts and humanities departments on the Boulder campus saw their enrollment numbers drop by nearly 14 percent between 2009 and 2013, the Daily Camera reported Tuesday. Some departments, such as religious studies, English and history, saw even larger downturn.

The Boulder Faculty Assembly created a new committee last week that plans to review trends across campus, including fewer students taking arts and humanities courses.

“The biggest problem is this general attitude that what happens in history and English and languages is minimally important,” said Robert Ferry, a history faculty member. “You can say you read Shakespeare or Thoreau, and that’s great. But what other purpose is there? That’s an attitude that I think we could work a lot harder on outside the university and once people come in.”

Meanwhile, enrollments are up in natural sciences, such as chemistry and biology, and in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Ferry said the changes are often seen as a response to the financial climate. Students facing rising education costs want to boost their chances of finding a job after graduation, he said.

But Ferry and other humanities faculty say students choose the university for a liberal arts education. Classes in English, history and languages teach students how to write, speak and think critically, Ferry said.

“It’s hard to argue against a difficult economy, but humanities activities are as useful for employment or success as anything,” Ferry said. “Humanities courses are not ephemeral or superficial or window dressings, icing on the cake. They really are critical-thinking courses, which instill knowledge beyond the topic itself.”

The committee hasn’t met yet, but Ferry hopes they look into whether improved outreach would stem the falling humanities numbers.

“We have to do a better job of making it clear why it always has been worthwhile and why it always will be worthwhile,” he said.

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