Here is an e-mail I received today about a wonderful resource from the National Humanities Alliance:
The National Humanities Alliance is pleased to announce the release of Strategies for Recruiting Students to the Humanities: A Comprehensive Resource!
This resource, grounded in our survey of more than 400 faculty and administrators, identifies effective strategies for reversing declines in humanities majors and enrollments. By highlighting over 100 exemplary initiatives, it responds to a desire among the humanities community to learn from successful recruitment efforts at other campuses.
The 80-page resource is divided into four chapters: (1) Articulating Career Pathways, (2) Curricular Innovations, (3) Cultivating a Marketing Mindset, and (4) Fostering Humanities Identity and Community. We encourage you to share the resource with your colleagues and take inspiration from the models presented to imagine what might be possible on your campus.
This report is a product of our Study the Humanities initiative, which is generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For additional information, please contact Study the Humanities project director Scott Muir at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just scanned the report, but hope to read it more thoroughly in coming days. Here is a taste of what the University of Oregon’s history department is doing:
The department of history at the University of Oregon, unlike most history departments in the U.S., has been gaining majors. Like many history departments, it suffered a significant drop in majors in the years following the Great Recession, bottoming out in 2016 with 189 majors. By fall of 2020, the department of 29 faculty had 286 majors, an increase of 51% in just four years. The department’s overarching marketing approach is a two-pronged strategy: 1) expanding the top of the major recruitment funnel through curricular reforms and 2) strengthening arguments for the major to increase their yield. “We’re trying to do what we do well, to convey the value of what we do to students and academic advisors, and to build structural incentives into the university curriculum that channel people our way,” said department chair Brett Rushforth.
First, the department has increased its gen ed footprint by certifying as many courses as possible to fulfill core requirements. “When all departments were asked to re-certify core ed classes, we did more than any department,” said Rushforth. “Structural incentives to take history classes are worth more than hundreds of flyers or emails.” The department has also worked to make gen ed offerings more attractive. It renamed courses to emphasize topics and themes rather than periodization or geography; U.S. History to 1815 became Inventing America, 20th century U.S. History became The American Century. The department also diversified course offerings and hired faculty to teach in areas of growing student interest, including African American history, global environmental history, comparative colonialisms, legal history, and gender history. These curricular reforms helped attract students to history courses.
The department has made the most of these opportunities through efforts to ensure these students have the best possible experience. “We assign surveys to our most dynamic and experienced teachers,” said Rushforth. “We have excellent younger faculty, but the most experienced teachers tend to draw in the majors.” The department has also invested more time and energy into enhancing the quality of graduate student teaching to ensure the discussion sections that accompany many of these
larger gen ed courses are effective and enjoyable. This emphasis on delivering the highest quality teaching helps convince students who sign up for a one-off course to try for another.
This is the point in the major recruitment funnel where efforts to make a strong case for the value of the major are crucial. “We want people to major in history because we believe we offer something of great value to them and to society,” said Rushforth. “So we try to explain that value and recruit majors.”
Recognizing that concerns about career prospects are a hurdle for many, the department has expanded its efforts to address them. “We bought 300 copies of the AHA’s Careers for History Majors pamphlets and are distributing them zealously, nowhere more so than at the advising offices,” said Rushforth. The department also brings in alums from a wide range of fields for career night events to showcase the variety of career pathways available to history majors.
Finally, the department has worked to enhance the major itself with new elements that foster community and encourage students to think of themselves as historians. This helps with retention and makes the major more appealing to prospective students. The department created an introductory methods course called The Historian’s Craft to better articulate the value of the major and build community among majors. “Our unstructured major can make community formation a challenge,” said Rushforth. “This is new but already seems to be helping.” To help students end their degree on a high note, the department created an annual History Showcase, held right before graduation, where majors have the opportunity to present their capstone projects to family and friends as well as their peers.
“Parents love it,” said Rushforth. “And majors have started to really look forward to it.”
Read the entire report here.