The decline of the B.A. continues

But will business degrees really lead to better jobs?


Photo by JSmith Photo on Flickr

Communication, critical thinking and problem solving are just a few of the skills that are gained from an arts education. But for many students, that list of skills doesn’t add up to a job, so they’re choosing business instead.

Worries about the decline of the Bachelor of Arts aren’t new. But when Ontario universities welcomed their biggest class ever this year, the headlines masked the fact that arts programs shrunk in size again in the province, this year by 0.3 per cent. Job-focused programs such as business accounted for much of the growth, increasing 2.9 per cent.

It’s not a new trend. Data from the Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC) show that between 2006 and 2010, in the average year, arts confirmations for first-year students coming from high school decreased on average by five per cent (that includes fine and applied arts, humanities, and social sciences). Business and commerce saw an increase of approximately 12 per cent.

The reason? One is that students worry a degree in the arts won’t bring as many job opportunities. David Gales, a fourth-year student at the University of Alberta, switched into business from political science in his third year, thinking that the degree would open a few more doors than the degree he was pursuing. “Business streams into marketing, accounting, finance, human resources, and many other areas,” says Gales. “I find that there is a lot of versatility in the commerce degree.”

But professor David Peddle, Head of Arts* at Memorial University, argues that there is versatility in arts degrees too. “With an expectation to change jobs a number of times in one’s career,” he explained, “today’s student needs the flexibility and diversity that the liberal arts and sciences can bring.”

Peddle hopes that students who do pick degrees in business don’t abandon arts entirely. “To run a business demands a kind of creativity and innovation that comes from thinking outside of the box,” he argues. “Complement your studies with courses that can give you a sense of historical trends, skills in writing, and precise thinking,” he says. Those are the skills best learned in arts.

*David Peddle was incorrectly identified as the Chair of Humanities in an earlier version of this story. We regret the error.


The decline of the B.A. continues

  1. I think the problem with business degrees is that they don’t do much more than train one to be an accountant. The type of math generally required for a BBA or BComm is woefully insufficient for finance. I’d argue that minors in business could be very useful for a BA in say, psychology or sociology. Or even political science. A discipline that allows for study of human behaviour or the structure and function of groups in society would be altogether more useful for marketing or human resources than courses about “corporate strategy” or “professional development”.

  2. I agree with Josh, why was business even a major in the first place? There is no such thing as pure business, it is always something that is attached to the other discipline’s. When people ask what business are you in, you never hear people reply “I am in business”, it is always engineering, bio chem, renewables, arts, etc.

  3. More people graduate with BAs and they do get hired and move up. There are probably more PhDs who are under-employed, and plenty of those are in the sciences. Hair-splitting continues no matter which degree you have. Abandoning arts & humanities in favour of business is NOT the answer because those grads will trail the CAs, MBAs, CMAs, CGAs who have practical experience. As a recruiter I am impressed with a well-rounded invidual who is tuned in to world events, the environment, politics, history and some related experience. I look for personality, leadership ability, a sense of humour, communication skills and attitude. Unless you are learning a profession or a trade, a BA is excellent. Students can always pick up a couple of business courses online or at university. We don’t need more bean counters; knowledge of recent history and human behaviour would be better.

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