A Halifax liberal arts college is launching a new program for teenagers, in hopes of inspiring more to study the humanities.

First-year student enrolment in Canadian liberal and fine arts programs has been dropping in recent years. The University of King's College says enrolment in its Foundation Year Program dropped 27.5 per cent over the past five years.

King's professor Laura Penny says the humanities can be misunderstood — even though they're extremely well-loved by most people. 

"I don't think people go home and look at Excel spreadsheets. I don't think people go home and look at engineering schematics," Penny said.

"Most of what people enjoy in life is the humanities. There's still an appetite out there for art, for music, for television, for film — and all of that comes from people who were trained in the liberal and fine arts." 

That's why she and professor Sarah Clift came up with the idea of Humanities for Young People, a residential week-long program for teens ages 14 to 16 in July.

It'll be modelled similar to a science camp, Penny said, but will involve literature, philosophy, art and music. One professor will do a tour of Halifax Harbour, explaining its pirate history, and a local Mi'kmaq elder will take the students on a medicine walk outside of the city. 

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Penny says some teens would like a humanities summer camp, while others prefer science ones.

'Ignite curiosity and passion'

"The idea that young people don't read anymore is not really true if you look at success of Harry Potter or Divergent," Penny said.

"Young people do have an interest in humanities, but maybe they're not entirely sure what those are and what you can do with them."

King's vice-president Kim Kierans says if the high school students apply to the school, that's simply a bonus.

"I'm hoping it will ignite curiosity and passion in young people," she said. "We're one of many programs that offer liberal arts and sure, it would be lovely to have them come to our Foundation Year Program." 

Fundraising for scholarships

The broader goal, Penny said, "is to give young people a chance to see what college is actually like, to see what kinds of things we study in something like FYP."

King's received a "connections grant" from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada around $14,000 to run the program. Penny says they're fundraising for student bursaries.

The university is also involved with Halifax Humanities 101, a free lecture series for low-income people to study great books and learn about ideas that shaped the world.