Business, science majors dominate UB as humanities lose enrollment


Matt Lanz will graduate from the UB’s School of Management with a degree in business administration – and he’s far from alone.

The business major attracts the most students out of any other major at UB.

Eight hundred and forty students will walk across the Alumni Arena stage to receive their diploma during the School of Management’s graduation on May 16.

Business is the largest major at UB with 3,166 students registered in the fall of 2014, which beat out engineering for the largest major at UB by 54 students. While UB has had enrollment increases of over 40 percent in the fields of engineering, biological and biomedical sciences and computer sciences in the past 10 years, liberal arts like English literature, foreign languages, history and the visual and performing arts decreased by around 40 percent, according to statistics the university gave to The Spectrum.

A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs, said UB’s enrollments are following national trends, which have shown an increase in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and a decrease in the humanities.

Business was the most popular degree in the country in 2011-12, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Nearly 80,000 more people graduated with degrees in business than all degrees in the humanities.

“I think this is the national question that people are asking across the nation: Have we, as a university and as a profession, done an adequate job describing the value of a liberal arts to a life long commitment to learning and exploration and economic prosperity?” Weber said.

The English Department at UB has seen the largest percentage decrease in enrollment in the past decade, going from 678 students in the fall of 2004 to 249 students in the fall of 2014. History is second with a 61 percent loss. The English Department recently announced changes in its degree requirements, including allowing more 200-level courses and dropping the foreign language requirement in effort to make the major more attractive.

Weber said he feels UB puts a high value on liberal arts, and that the drop in students in the liberal arts is more reflective of the market and student interest. He said during economic challenges, people, generally, tend to select majors such as engineering and business.

“I think it’s much easier for people to see the direct link that if you go into engineering and you go to work as an engineer, versus maybe having a terrific experience at English at UB and your career might take different paths,” Weber said.

Madeline Bartels, a biology and psychology senior who is graduating next week, said she has a couple of friends who chose to study nursing because they figured, “you’re always going to need someone like that.”

Bartels wanted to go into a field such as optometry because she knew where there would be job security and she would be able to support herself after graduation.

“I didn’t want to have to rely on being married or on someone else so I definitely wanted a secure job,” she said.

Lanz always knew he wanted to do business, but didn’t decide on accounting until he discovered that many professional sport teams’ CFOs were certified accountants.

“For accounting, there’s always a huge need for them. That really helped pushed me toward it,” he said.

Sean Lyke, a senior media study major, grew up making characters and videos with a web cam. He loved movies and cameras and didn’t think he “should steer away from that at all.” The visual and preforming arts has had the third largest enrollment decrease (46 percent) at UB since 2004.

“As far as friends go saying, ‘The film business is a dying business, or it’s hard to get into,’ but for anyone out there that’s thinking, ‘Maybe I should do this, maybe I should switch to that,’ I’d say I did what my heart told me,” Lyke said.

Lyke said he thinks a lot of students worry about what major their parents want them to be.

He hears people say, “‘They want me to do this or they want to become a doctor or a businessman,’” Lyke said. “I think some kids do get steered in the wrong direction because their families tell them what to do or they feel that being an actor or director is not a reasonable goal.”

Both of Lanz’s parents are accountants, but he said his parents didn’t push him toward business. Weber said it’s common for students to pick a major that may not be their strength, but that they go into a field they think will give them job security.

“You have to do what you love to do, which is kind of our philosophy for our students,” Weber said.

Weber said a lot of students discover a certain major is not for them after taking the courses, and that UB has a “relatively flexible policy” when it comes to students transferring.

The large increase in engineering, biological and biomedical sciences and mathematics have put stress on the departments to meet the demand and needs of students, according to Weber. But he said he believes UB has done a good job in “accommodating that need,” in part with the help of Finish in 4.

Finish in 4 is UB’s initiative that aids students in completing their degree in four years, and Weber said it has allowed UB to better accommodate students in fields with large populations with larger class sizes and more professors.

UB recently made changes to its general education requirements, which will include seminars for freshman and transfer students that will allow “many departments to highlight what they do, that may not be in students’ minds in high school,” and attract students to the departments that may be decreasing in enrollment, Weber said.

Weber said he’s “been in it long enough to know things go up and down” in terms of trends for majors. He said that when he went to college for engineering in 1972, engineering was supposed to be dying. He said universities have to decide if the shift away from the humanities is a longer-term shift or a shorter term one.

“We tend to get very caught up in the trend of the day,” Weber said. “We try to look more longer term.”

Lyke said students should put more emphasis on their own skills and passions rather than the job market when picking a major.

“I think people should just go with what they love,” Lyke said. “Because in the end it’s what they’re doing that’s going to make them happy. If they graduate with a degree, and it’s something they’re interested in, yeah, they’re going to make money but in the end having a job where you’re happy is more important than a job where you make a lot of money.”

Tom Dinki is the senior news editor and can be reached at