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Is Your College Major on the Decline?


What a difference a few decades make. In 1970, just over 14 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients majored in business. In 2010, it was 22 percent. Looking at plain numbers, the change is even starker: 115,000 in 1970, and over 360,000 in 2010. Why do we now have triple the number of graduates with business degrees, and which areas of study have declined as that major surged?


(Photo Credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr)

Over at NPR, Quoctrung Bui created an amazing graph charting the popularity of various majors over time. Business, as we’ve said, dominates, but there are a few other big changes that jump out:

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1. The number of degree recipients in general has grown dramatically.

In 2012, 33.5 percent of Americans aged 25 to 29 had bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 1975, that number was only 21.9 percent for the same age group.

At the same time, the price of a degree has increased sharply, encouraging students (and their parents) to think in terms of return on investment for their tuition dollars. Which brings us to our next point…

2. Healthcare majors are booming.

“Over the past decade, the health care sector added jobs month after month, even when jobs were disappearing elsewhere in the economy,” writes Bui. “And the field is projected to add lots more jobs in the coming decade. So it makes sense that the share of students majoring in health-related fields (like nursing, pre-med and physical therapy) rose sharply in the past decade.”

3. Fewer education majors, but no corresponding shortage of teachers.

Over the past 10-plus years, the number of teachers graduating with an education degree fell sharply: in 1999, two-thirds of teachers had education degrees, but by 2009, only half majored in education.

Tell Us What You Think

Is your major growing? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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