The Rise of the Double Major

The economy is changing at warp speed. Some of the jobs most in demand in 2010 did not even exist in 2004. What’s more, Americans switch jobs, on average, about every four years.

Against this backdrop, colleges and universities are trying to figure out how best to prepare students for this evolving world. The trend since the 1960s had been toward occupational or vocational degrees, what some call practical degrees. The most popular undergraduate major today is business.

But debates have erupted on many campuses between those who advocate for the content of a practical major and others who think that the skills of a liberal-arts major are the best insurance in a rapidly changing world.

Meanwhile, students are hedging their bets: The number of double majors is on the rise, particularly at the most elite schools where supercharged students want to do it all and where the ranks of double majors have swelled to more than 30 to 40 percent of all graduates. Nearly four out of 10 students at Vanderbilt University have two majors. At the University of California at Davis, the number of double majors has risen 50 percent in five years. Double majors at MIT have jumped twofold since 1993.

“Demand is up not because schools are encouraging it, but because students are demanding it,” says Richard Pitt. Pitt is a sociologist at Vanderbilt who, along with Steven J. Tepper, has looked at the rise of double majors on nine campuses as part of a research study that will be released next year.

Among some of the findings of their study of 1,700 students across nine institutions: <Read the rest of the article.>

Via Jeff Selingo, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.