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Popularity of STEM majors on the rise

The Strategic Resource Allocation Project (SRAP) has issued numerous budget-cutting and revenue-growing measures over the past year and a half. Changing trends in St. Olaf students’ majors may be  behind the Steering Committee’s decision to cut the amount of courses offered by some humanities departments and increase the number of courses offered by the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science (MSCS).

Between 2009 and 2018, the percent of graduates majoring in math and science rose from 30 to 37 percent, while the percent of graduates majoring in the humanities fell from 22 percent to 16 percent, according to data from Institutional Research and Effectiveness.

This aligns with a nationwide trend – more and more students at institutions nationwide are pursuing STEM degrees over degrees in the humanities or the arts, leading some colleges to discontinue or downsize their humanities and arts programs in favor of STEM-focused programs.

For STEM fields, the 2018 mark of 37 percent roughly matches the ten-year high reached in 2012, while the humanities number of 16 percent sits 5 percentage points above the ten year low of approximately 11 percent reached in 2016.

Mary Walczak, Associate Dean for Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Professor of Chemistry, explained how the SRAP initiative has incorporated these student trends into their reallocation decisions. Walczak is serving as chair of a team that is examining course credit requirements for graduation.

According to Walczak, all programs and departments were examined by SRAP. Among these programs and departments, several pieces of data were considered, including total student credits earned, average section sizes, majors/concentrations awarded, under-enrolled courses and faculty teaching at full-time equivalent (FTE). The trends analyzed in this data were observed over a 3 to 5 year period, in hopes of identifying recent trends.

“In general we looked for patterns and compared data in particular programs with other programs,” Walczak said. “For example, was the student credit hours/faculty FTE ratio much higher in this program than at the College as a whole? Was it much lower? Are there consistently under-enrolled courses in a program?”

Jan Hanson, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, said the next step in the SRAP budgeting process is implementation over the next several years, and she explained that it will take time to see the full benefits of SRAP’s revenue-growing measures, program enhancements and new program developments.

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