Mississippi State University and many students look down on humanities majors, both socially and financially.
To some, this makes sense; after all why spend more money and give more opportunities to programs that produce less money? This is a pragmatic way to think about the world, but it misses a lot of nuance, especially when it comes to doing academia for fidelity. Higher education is about expanding the knowledge of humanity in all fields, and by removing funding and disincentivizing students to pursue majors in the humanities, the school is doing its students and the world a great disservice.
It is worth talking numbers for a moment. According to the enrollment data offered by MSU’s Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, the total number of students in both STEM and humanities majors is 11,646. Of this, STEM majors make up 10,108 and humanities majors make up 1,463. This data does support the argument that more resources need to be allocated on STEM, as they account for such a larger population of total students.
And yes, of course STEM departments do bring the school more money, perhaps even much more. A quick look at the Annual Operating Budgets offered at the Office of the Controller and Treasurer, “on-campus” programs — ones that are officially part of MSU’s main campus — will bring in a collective $278 million in 2023. There is not a distinction made between how much of this is STEM and how much is the humanities, so a quick pat on the back for all of us. Meanwhile, the College of Veterinary Medicine brings in $55 million in total revenue alone, and the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station bats an additional $33 million.
I recognize that the English department probably does not bring in $33 million, but higher education should be a non-profit undertaking. This should be the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, not just the knowledge that holds financial value.
Further exacerbating the problem is the lack of vocal public support for humanities. According to Madison Feser from Study Breaks--a student journalism website--between 2009 and 2015 STEM programs grew by 43%, while humanities declined by 0.4%. This shows us that not as many new students are pursuing humanities degrees as they are STEM. Personally, it seems that this is attributed to the direction society has taken in recent years. Creators on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram claim humanities degrees are useless; they do not lead to you receiving a “good" job in the future. When did we decide this? When did we, as a society, decide that the only thing important about college was getting a job?
College is not exclusively a trade school; it is not solely training students to get a job. College, as I said earlier, is about furthering the knowledge of self and humanity. This is an inherently noble pursuit. No matter what that looks like, whether it be digging up ancient civilizations as an anthropologist or becoming a literary critic or a scholar of religion, we should all be encouraged to pursue further education in subjects we are passionate about, not just the ones most lucrative for the university or even, perhaps counter-intuitively, ourselves.