Editor's Note: This article has been updated since its original posting.
U.S. News & World Report recently released data that tracks enrollment in different disciplines for the graduate schools it ranks. Among those disciplines, engineering is the fastest-growing field, having increased its enrollment by 38 percent since 2005. Law, on the other hand, has seen declining enrollments because of tuition increases and lower salaries after graduation.
At UT, we see similar trends. The total enrollment in the Cockrell School of Engineering increased by 6.5 percent over the last 10 years. What's worth noting is that the enrollment in the computer science program, which falls under the College of Natural Sciences, increased more dramatically, by 28 percent. By contrast, enrollment in the Law School has decreased over 23 percent, and enrollment in the College of Liberal Arts has decreased by 25 percent.
It seems reasonable and mature that students are concerned about how to make a living after graduation. As the birthplace of Dell, Austin attracts many tech geeks and engineers. Thousands of people attend “Startup Crawl” and other similar events every year, where companies introduce their technologies. But that does not necessarily mean the city and the nation will be better off with more science majors.
A law degree, for example, can provide students with highly competitive skills such as critical thinking and strong writing. To be able to research, analyze and use principles to solve problems is key to success.
The same goes for the liberal arts. In a recently published interview with the Texan, Dean Randy Diehl of the College of Liberal Arts acknowledged that his field may not focus on bringing technical skills to the table, but rather on understanding enough history and culture to know why we are here as a society.
This also applies to whether students should spend time studying theory or more practical applications. Today, many students are so concerned about skill sets that they often forget the concepts behind them.
Brad Love, an associate professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations said he would rather learn the principle of a simple design than a piece of fancy software. The way we write, draw and manufacture things is always going to change with constant developments in technology; however, by making sure that we are obtaining skills and knowledge that are never obsolete, we will be able to construct the work we do.
The reduction of COLA’s cohort sizes and the total number of graduate students since 2009 is a stark reminder that we don’t want to see area of studies such as philosophy, literature, art history and languages go away since cultured life depends on it.
Liu is an associate editor.