New trends in majors and minors

By Anna Nassiff

The popularity of majors at Macalester fluctuates with the times, and while some majors have consistently been among the most popular over the past two decades, some traditionally smaller majors are experiencing rapid growth.Over the course of the past decade, the departments within Macalester have seen both spurts of growth and slow declines. For In 1999, for instance, the biggest majors on campus were Biology, with 93 declared majors, and Psychology, with 82. As of the fall of 2009, those giants have been replaced by Economics, with 113 declared majors, and Political Science, with 102.

Economics Department Chair Professor Karine Moe noted that the rising popularity of economics major is not unique to Macalester.

“Since the late 1990s, economics majors have been on the rise across the country,” said Moe. “The demographics in general seem to indicate that students today find economics to be of more interest today than they did in the 1990s.”

Moe thinks that the increase of Economics majors might be tied to a growing sense of global awareness.

“One [reason for popularity] is that I think that students are really interested in the global economy, and they want to understand what’s going on globally in a much broader sense,” said Moe. “They understand that economics underlies so much of what goes on in politics, labor markets and so many facets of life.”

The economic downturn has likely had some influence, as well.

Some departments, though tiny compared to the most popular majors, have experienced large growth in popularity. The Linguistics Department, at 26 declared majors last year, has experienced a huge increase from nine declared majors in 1999 and only four in 2000. Educational Studies didn’t exist as a major until 2008, but it currently stands at 14 declared majors. Likewise, Cognitive and Neuroscience Studies had been bumped up from two declared majors in 1999 to 13 in 2009.

“Apparently this is somewhat of a national trend as well,” said Linguistics Professor Christina Esposito on the rapid growth of the Linguistics Department. “A lot of the interest in linguistics stems from this idea that you’re looking at something you do every day almost all day long.”

Esposito also speculated that Macalester’s Linguistic Department in particular holds a lot of qualities that might attract students.

“I think that in general there’s a really strong spirit in our department of community, and that’s been drawing a lot of majors,” she said. “We have a really strong experimental focus now, and a lot of students are doing research and projects.”

Professor Ruthanne Kurth-Schai, Chair of the Educational Studies Department, believes that the development of the Educational Studies Department is more the result of Macalester’s unique program than national trends of thought.

“Although most programs will focus on teacher licensing only, there is a national trend toward supporting those programs with more of an emphasis on education policy and the role of education more broadly in society,” said Kurth-Schai. “So we actually are ahead of the national trend in having a two-fold major that tries to address both critical aspects of education: what happens with in classrooms with a focus on teaching and learning and then the broader focus on education in society.”

However, she does believe there has been an increase in the attention the public gives to education.

“‘I think there’s greater public awareness of both the promise and peril of public education. It’s become a major political issue,” she said. “There’s a lot of controversy.”

International Studies, Macalester’s most-intended major, has fluctuated over the years, but is currently, with 67 students, one of the largest majors around.

Psychology has remained steady. Despite minor fluctuations over the past decade, it still has 82 students. Though 82 made it the second-largest major on campus in 1999, it has dropped to the third most popular major. This might have to do with the fact that in the fall of last year Macalester had 110 more people than it did in the fall of 1999.

Other popular majors include English, with 64 declared majors, and Biology with 81.

The least common majors are the majors that focus on specific cultural groups, such as French and Francophone Studies, Asian Studies and Russian Studies, each with nine declared majors. Latin American Studies, Japanese Language and Culture, German Studies and Hispanic Studies are slightly more popular, but still relatively small.

Individually designed interdepartmental majors have decreased from nine in 1999 to four in 2009.

The largest minors are Music, with 29 declared minors, Mathematics with 23, and Hispanic Studies with 19.

Among incoming freshman, the most prevalent intended major is easily International Studies, with 61 intended majors. It is followed by Biology and Economics. Consistent with previous Mac generations, the least popular intended majors are those centered on cultural groups, such as Russian, Spanish, German, Japanese, Asian Studies, and French.