The decline of the B.A. continues

But will business degrees really lead to better jobs?

Photo by JSmith Photo on Flickr

Communication, critical thinking and problem solving are just a few of the skills that are gained from an arts education. But for many students, that list of skills doesn’t add up to a job, so they’re choosing business instead.

Worries about the decline of the Bachelor of Arts aren’t new. But when Ontario universities welcomed their biggest class ever this year, the headlines masked the fact that arts programs shrunk in size again in the province, this year by 0.3 per cent. Job-focused programs such as business accounted for much of the growth, increasing 2.9 per cent.

It’s not a new trend. Data from the Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC) show that between 2006 and 2010, in the average year, arts confirmations for first-year students coming from high school decreased on average by five per cent (that includes fine and applied arts, humanities, and social sciences). Business and commerce saw an increase of approximately 12 per cent.

The reason? One is that students worry a degree in the arts won’t bring as many job opportunities. David Gales, a fourth-year student at the University of Alberta, switched into business from political science in his third year, thinking that the degree would open a few more doors than the degree he was pursuing. “Business streams into marketing, accounting, finance, human resources, and many other areas,” says Gales. “I find that there is a lot of versatility in the commerce degree.”

But professor David Peddle, Head of Arts* at Memorial University, argues that there is versatility in arts degrees too. “With an expectation to change jobs a number of times in one’s career,” he explained, “today’s student needs the flexibility and diversity that the liberal arts and sciences can bring.”

Peddle hopes that students who do pick degrees in business don’t abandon arts entirely. “To run a business demands a kind of creativity and innovation that comes from thinking outside of the box,” he argues. “Complement your studies with courses that can give you a sense of historical trends, skills in writing, and precise thinking,” he says. Those are the skills best learned in arts.

*David Peddle was incorrectly identified as the Chair of Humanities in an earlier version of this story. We regret the error.

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