According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the last nine years have shown a decline in the number of people who have been applying to earn a degree in the arts and humanities. In contrast, Point Loma Nazarene University has had a steady increase in applicants to its arts and humanities majors since 2017, according to PLNU’s Institutional Research website. Information from the Assistant Director of Admissions, Conner Mathisen, shows that undergraduate applications in the departments of Art and Design, Communication Studies, History and Political Science, Literature, Journalism, Writing and Languages and Music have risen from 770 in 2017 to 954 in 2022.
Despite PLNU’s success in the arts and humanities, the nationwide departure from these majors greatly saddens literature Professor Bettina Pedersen, who believes this downward trend in investment in the arts and humanities is one that humans are repeating, relating it to the rise of industrialization in the 19th century.
“As industrialization took hold and the values of industrialization did too, those were the emerging values of capitalism, which basically says more is better — that making more money is always better,” Pedersen said.
The money-focused mindset continues to impact current society, and plays a part in the turn from the arts and humanities, according to Pedersen. When things like college and healthcare costs continue to rise, the appeal of an immediate high paying job grows. Pedersen said the cost of healthcare is a driving force in the cost of college education and directly correlates the idea of education to a high-paying job pipeline. The Kaiser Family Foundation did a study which found that over half of Americans struggle to meet healthcare costs. When people are worried about not being able to afford safety and coverage in case of an emergency, people will want to get a job that will immediately help pay for the high costs of living in America, Pedersen said. She said there are practical reasons people are making these decisions.
“What is sad about that is we could have a solution if we addressed the cost of healthcare and provide a national healthcare system in this country,” Pedersen said.
Professor G. James Daichendt, vice-provost for traditional undergraduate studies and dean of the colleges, has also been affected by society’s negative views and abandonment of the arts. In an email interview with The Point, Daichendt said that he has been told by people in industries other than the arts and humanities that choosing the arts was a poor career choice. As the dean of the college of arts and humanities, he strives to make sure that students understand the connection between studying the arts and humanities and their future careers.
Both Pedersen and Daichendt said that the relationships the faculty and students have in the arts and humanities program is what makes PLNU an exception to the national average.
“I believe the relationships between faculty and students helps students walk through any doubts or frustrations that they may encounter if they are worried about their area of study,” Daichendt said.
“The humanities departments are going to draw more applicants than the national average because our professors are so fantastic. They push you, care about you, challenge you and really want you to succeed,” said Emma McCoy, a fourth-year literature major set to graduate with a published collection of poetry.
According to McCoy, PLNU humanities and arts students thrive because their programs provide a comprehensive education in which students learn about themselves in addition to the world around them.
Professor Pedersen also said that PLNU is special because of the Christian desire for community, service and Biblical study. The Christian aspect of PLNU appears to bring in more humanities driven students.
“If students can blend the ability to serve people with that kind of human heart and investment in the human story, it fuels more of an interest, perhaps, in studying story, in studying music, in studying art, as a way of telling the human story and being part of the redemptive work of God,” Pedersen said.
As PLNU’s arts and humanities department continue to grow, the greater nationwide turn from arts and humanities impacts society as a whole. The arts and humanities, while seemingly on the decline, still have a prevalence and importance that weaves through society, said Pedersen.
McCoy argues that humanities degrees make students diverse applicants for jobs, seeing as they show excellence in vital job requirements such as communication, reading, critical thinking and cultural perspectives.
“We miss out on important skill sets when we discourage study in these areas. For example, enhancing the ability to critically engage subjective information, fostering reflective writing and reading skills, or developing an understanding of others,” Daichendt said.
Interdisciplinary studies are a way to incorporate the arts and humanities into the predominantly science and technology based world, according to Pedersen. She says that with these programs, universities can train doctors who also detail the complexities of dealing with life and death and computer scientists who grapple with what it means to be human in a world of artificial intelligence.
“We can’t solve the big problems of human existence right now without the arts and the humanities. We simply can’t do it,” Pedersen said.
Written By: Grace Leonard