May 4, 2007

College should add more minors

The first lesson taught in economics is supply and demand. Ironically, the economics department, along with several other popular departments, has yet to apply this principle to its college offerings. Despite student interest in minor programs, departments like economics, political science, and history only offer major courses of study.

These departments should learn from their peers. Beginning next fall, Environmental Studies, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine will all offer minor programs. Around 22 minors are currently offered in the College, each requiring students to complete five or six courses. Smaller departments tend to introduce minors in the hope of increasing enrollment and funding. Larger departments, bearing the burden of popularity, worry that offering minors will exacerbate already high demand by attracting an influx of students that they cannot accommodate.

Yet this fear should not dissuade faculty from improving their departments. Right now, almost 20 percent of students in the College double major. Many of these students have a wide range of academic interests, but they believe (despite the opposition of experts) that degrees in fields like economics or political science will give them an advantage on the job market. As a result, these students major in two fields, pursuing their academic passion as well as another discipline that is perhaps more in line with their career goals. Minor programs in fields like econ would allow students to demonstrate their interest and ability without having to take all the courses required for the major. Accordingly, the demand for enrollment in popular departments might actually decrease, as more students elect to complete a minor of 6 courses in place of a major of 12.

Minor programs would also provide recognition for students who take a significant number of courses in a given field. Under the current system, a student can take eight electives in history, for instance, without the University duly crediting his interest. A minor program, however, would enable the student to organize his course of study while working toward official recognition.

Additionally, creating more minor programs would afford students more room for electives. Since the Core consists of 18 courses, and majors generally take up 12 to 16, students with two majors have difficulty exploring outside their primary fields. This occurrence is unfortunate, and many top administrators agree. Speaking to the Editorial Board, Dean of the College John Boyer said: "In the best of all possible worlds, students should sample widely." This sampling could also include courses at the U of C's excellent professional schools, an experience which would undoubtedly impress potential employers.

Popular departments should offer minor programs, reducing the temptation to double major and bringing the College closer to Boyer's best of all possible worlds.