Polymaths

An item came across my inbox this morning that concerns what college kids are studying.

English: Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. R...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, not their phone screens. Instead:

A new study from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences on course-taking patterns of undergraduates finds a significant lack of crossover by majors in the humanities and majors in STEM fields. According to the data, engineers earned approximately 11% of their credits in humanities courses. Meanwhile, humanities majors completed just 8% of their credits in STEM fields.

That’s from the folks at Phi Beta Kappa and the rumor is they’re pretty smart.  STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  What this is telling us is that something is happening in colleges that, frankly, seems to be happening to society as a whole.  Kids are tuning in to what is of primary interest and tuning out almost everything else.  That’s a shame.  What if Leonardo daVinci had stuck with one or the other?

Higher education is the one chance that those who are lucky enough to experience it have to explore everything.  That’s not happening:

  • Students who received undergraduate degrees earned more credits in humanities subjects than in STEM. Humanities credits represented approximately 17% of the total credits earned by the typical graduate, while the STEM share was 13%.
  • Approximately 37% of credits earned by humanities majors were for humanities courses.
  • Both in terms of absolute numbers and share of all courses taken, engineering students earned the fewest humanities credits (11% of median number earned by these students in all subjects) while social scientists earned the most (equaling 22% of all credits).
  • Humanities majors tended to earn fewer STEM credits than STEM majors earned humanities credits.

College should breed polymaths – a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.  In other words, they’re well-rounded.  They have critical thinking skills and a broad range of knowledge from which to draw conclusions.  Those are the sort of people I want when I’m hiring (or making friends).  You?

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