Posted on 04 December 2013.
Indiana Wesleyan University has experienced several major changes in the past few years.
And no, not just the addition of a Chick-fil-A, a new president or the revised media policy, but changes in actual academic majors.
On-campus undergraduate students at IWU have noticeably different major preferences than they did as recently as three years ago, according to data from the fall census of declared majors.
IWU’s on-campus undergraduate enrollment has declined 8.4 percent in the past three years, according to institutional enrollment data. In this article, percent changes for specific majors and divisions will be adjusted for the overall enrollment decline.
The Pre-Licensure Division of the School of Nursing, which includes all undergraduate nursing students taking courses on the Marion campus, has become more popular in recent years. Since 2010, the division has gained 70 students, bringing its 2013 total to 586 students and representing a three-year increase of 23.9 percent. Not surprisingly, nursing is the largest undergraduate major on campus.
Pre-Licensure Division Chair Dr. Rob Dawson is optimistic about the future growth of this on-campus undergraduate division.
“There are great opportunities in nursing, and we expect them only to increase with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as well as the aging population in the United States,” said Dawson.
Dawson added since nursing is a caregiving profession, it “aligns well” with IWU’s mission of creating world changers. He also said the new science building (coming in 2014, according to IWU’s campus planning and construction website) will help attract prospective students.
IWU’s Division of Music is another beneficiary of students’ changing preferences. Since 2010, the number of students in the division has seen an increase of 30.6 percent to reach its current number of 140.
Dr. Todd Guy, chair of the Division of Music, said there are three new majors in the division since 2010: music therapy, music composition and performance. The new majors, as well as faculty members’ recent efforts to recruit, have paid off.
“Within our division, we really work hard in terms of recruiting and calling prospective students,” Guy said.
Guy said switching to “stacked” music scholarships has made IWU more competitive with other schools. Before two or three years ago, students’ music scholarships would not be added on top of other scholarships but would displace other aid, leaving students with the same amount of aid they would have received without a scholarship, according to Guy. Now, students have their music scholarships “stacked” on top of all other financial aid.
But Guy doesn’t want the department to grow too much more in the future.
“We really want to grow to about 160 [students], and once we get there we can be even more selective with who we recruit and accept into the division than we are now,” said Guy.
On the other hand, some majors and divisions on campus have faced a different issue: declining numbers.
The Division of Social Sciences has seen the biggest decline in recent years. Since 2010, the division transitioned from 155 students to 99 students, a decrease of 30.3 percent. The history major alone has declined 71.1 percent, from 34 students in 2010 to just nine this fall.
Division of Social Sciences Chair Dr. David Bartley says although the numbers have gone down, they may not tell the whole story.
“Division size can be deceptive; for example, we have a considerable number of students who double-major or minor in related academic fields,” Bartley said via email.
Bartley added that the division’s contribution to general education courses has remained strong. Many out-of-division students must take history, economics and political science courses to meet their general education requirements.
“The number of students majoring in division programs does not always measure that division’s contribution to undergraduate learning,” Bartley said.
The School of Theology and Ministry has also recently faced the issue of declining numbers. The department has declined from 461 students in 2010 to 349 students in 2013, a 23.1 percent decrease.
However, Rev. Dr. Dave Ward, associate dean of the school of theology and ministry, is confident in the future of the department. He said they have taken measures to recruit students in the past year.
“The School of Theology and Ministry engaged in hundreds of phone calls, emails, and handwritten notes with prospective students last year,” Ward said in an email. “The effect of those efforts on total enrollment will not show for three years.”
Ward also said he’s seen many encouraging signs of growth in particular majors in the department. The Christian ministries major, named one of the top five of its kind in the country by Worship magazine, had 70.4 percent more incoming freshmen this fall than last fall, according to Ward. The sports ministry major also saw a 53.4 percent increase in total students in the program since last fall.
“We are focusing on what worked in helping those programs grow so we can replicate that success with other programs,” Ward said.
Dr. Darlene Bressler, IWU’s vice president and dean for the college of arts and sciences, pays close attention to growth trends in majors and divisions.
Bressler believes growing and declining majors at IWU are often in line with large-scale changes in the United States job market. She noted that students nationally are shifting away from the humanities, such as social sciences and theology, and are choosing more health sciences, such as nursing.
Research supports Bressler’s claims. The New York Times reported that the percentage of college students majoring in the humanities dropped from 14 percent in 1970 to just 7 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, Best College Reviews included five health science majors in its “10 Best College Majors For the Future” list, published in December 2012.
“This comes in cycles, but right now we’re in a period in time when it is very difficult to convince people to major in philosophy, history or English,” Bressler said. “It’s part of a major socio-cultural shift that we’re undergoing.”
In the future, Bressler said IWU will continue trying to meet the needs of its students, whatever they may be.
“Every academic institution that is stewarding its resources well is always trying to determine student interests,” Bressler said. “Everything we do needs to be mission-centered and meet the needs of students.”