How UPEI is bringing sexy back to its history program
'We've been offering different first-year courses that are somewhat designed to entice'
History programs across Canada have seen a decline in enrolment over the past several years but a professor at UPEI says the local program has actually seen a boost in numbers.
The jump can perhaps be attributed, at least in part, to the department developing new, eye-catching courses to generate interest among students, said James Moran, chair of the university's history department.
"I would say over the last two or three years we've been offering different first-year courses that are somewhat designed to entice incoming university students — straight out of high school," Moran said.
Major increase at UPEI
The 2016-17 school year at UPEI saw a mere 39 students choose history as their major. The number of students choosing it as a minor was even less — just 20 students.
But the 2018-19 school year has seen about 68 students select history as a major — that's about a 74 per cent increase from the 2016-17 school year. The number enrolled as a minor didn't change.
Moran said newer courses like the history of rock and roll, the history of Nazi Germany and the history of the devil in western society have quickly become some of the most popular courses in the program.
"They've definitely tried to rename courses to make them sound more interesting or to catch the interest of the students," said Emma Doucette, a third-year history major who previously served as the president of the UPEI student-run History Society.
Humanities in decline
According to Statistics Canada, the humanities as a general field of study has seen a decline in enrolment since 2012.
In the 2012-13 school year, Statistics Canada reported enrolment in the humanities hovered near 302,400 across Canada. By 2016-17 — the most up-to-date numbers available — that number had fallen to below 258,900 — about a 14 per cent drop.
The decline in enrolment in history and the humanities as a whole, Moran said, could be because young people are increasingly concerned with learning skills that will secure them gainful employment after graduation.
The skills absorbed by students in the humanities, although not as obvious as those in programs like nursing or business, are just as valuable, Moran said.
We offer students a range of skills from analytical skills, to research skills, to writing skills, to communication skills that will … help them in their career path. — James Moran
"It's hard to explain to students ... we offer students a range of skills from analytical skills, to research skills, to writing skills, to communication skills that will … help them in their career path," he said.
"When students are more engaged with the content of the program and perhaps just slightly less concerned or anxious about the employment piece, I think ironically what they end up doing is thriving in the program and then again — somewhat ironically — doing well in the work world when they're finished."
New ideas a 'great motivator for history students'
To further attract students who may be more concerned about securing employment after graduating with a history degree, the department is looking to develop co-op and work experiences for UPEI's history students, Moran said.
"There are some voluntary placements we're working on right now — at the Department of Veterans Affairs and also in the municipal heritage community as well," Moran said.
"So there are ways in which we can do it, it's tricky in a smaller place than in a larger urban environment, but we're working on that as well. So far it's been paying off."
Having a co-op experience is a "great motivator for history students" because they get the best of both worlds, Doucette said — studying history and gaining meaningful work experience.