UPEI course teaches liberal arts students the value of a humanities education

A UPEI course for soon-to-be liberal arts graduates helps them transition to the workforce and fosters confidence in their education at a time when the humanities are often undervalued.

Students come to Arts 401 'feeling a bit nervous, almost shamefaced' about their BAs, says professor

The number of students in humanities at UPEI dropped by nearly 50 per cent between 2004 and 2015. (Shutterstock)

When Jillian Campbell was studying English at the University of Prince Edward Island, she was often told it would be impossible to land a job with a liberal arts degree.

But Campbell proved dissenters wrong.

She was hired right out of the gate as marketing and communications manager for Whitecap Entertainment, a P.E.I. concert producer.

Campbell credits not only hard work and studying a subject she "truly enjoyed" for her success, but also a UPEI capstone course called Arts 401.

Taught by English professor Shannon Murray, the course is designed to help fourth-year students prepare for the workforce before graduating — and help them value their education at a time when liberal arts degrees and the humanities are getting a bad rap.

According to the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, enrolment in humanities — which include literature, languages, history and philosophy — is down 45 per cent over the past decade. University administrators say they frequently hear from parents and prospective students that humanities are useless and don't lead to jobs.

Jillian Campbell, seen here with the Dixie Chicks, works in the marketing department of Whitecap Entertainment. (Submitted by Jillian Campbell)

'They are the brave ones'

At UPEI, enrolment in the humanities decreased by nearly 50 per cent between 2004 and 2015.

"It's interesting," Murray said. "About, say, 10 years ago, my Shakespeare classes had between 70 and 90 students in them, and last term my Shakespeare class had 28. So I think that's the kind of drop we're seeing."

But it's not all doom and gloom for arts students, she said — now they enjoy smaller class sizes and face less competition.

"Because they are the brave ones who went through despite the fact they heard some of these bad numbers."

English professor Shannon Murray teaches a course called Arts 401 that helps fourth-year students prepare for the workplace after graduation. (UPEI)

She said many of her students come into Arts 401 "feeling a bit nervous, almost shamefaced about the fact they have BAs. By the end, they're really proud of it."

Murray said there is a lot of credible evidence supporting the value of a liberal arts degree and the transferable skills that students gain from this type of education.

"I think it's that idea of transfer that people are having difficulty with," she said.

"If you have a good liberal arts degree, it suits you for all kinds of possible avenues for your career, not just one."


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