The number of American students receiving bachelor's degrees has doubled since the 1970s. But as The New York Times's Verlyn Klinkenborg laments, the number of English-literature bachelor's degrees has certainly not doubled. Whither the traditional liberal-arts education?
Nate Silver, resident stats wizard at The New York Times, jumps in to explain that the situation isn't so bleak after all. It's true, he points out, that the distribution of college majors is growing more focused on careers as greater numbers of Americans pursue an education before entering the work force. As a result, the noble pursuit of an education in English lit and composition has suffered a relative decline as a share of total bachelor's degrees handed out every fall. However, the number of English degrees holds steady as a share of college-age Americans—a population that has not doubled since the 1970s. Read Silver's post at Five Thirty Eight for a full explanation.
Silver breaks down the numbers for degrees in visual and performing arts as well as in science, technology, engineering, and math. What about for architecture? It's easy enough to find out, using data provided by the federal Digest of Education Statistics.
Bachelor's degrees in architecture accounted for a little more than 1 percent of all bachelor's degrees back in 1981. Relative to total bachelor's degrees granted, the share of architecture degrees has steadily plummeted ever since. In 2011, the most recent year for which the database provides figures, architecture degrees accounted for just more than half of a percent of all bachelor's degrees granted.
But the same truth holds for architecture as for English: the number of 21-year-old Americans with bachelor's degrees in architecture is holding steady. About one-fifth of 1 percent of this age cohort graduated with B.Arch degrees in 2011—a much higher percentage than in 1971. And since 1976, the share has been consistent: about 0.2 of every 100 American 21-year-olds has received a bachelor's degree in architecture.
So there doesn't seem to be much cause for concern here. (Except of course for the usual stuff: kids today don't know how to draw and so on.)