The University's initiative to bolster less popular majors has been underway for only three years, but many traditionally smaller areas of concentration have already experienced growth.
The Major Choices initiative, led by Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel, is intended to steer students away from large departments and toward lightly-populated departments. "I think we are seeing some encouraging results," Malkiel said.
Comparing sophomore enrollment in the classes of 2005 and 2006 with the classes of 2007 and 2008, Malkiel calculated that the comparative literature, classics and Slavic languages departments have grown by 60 percent; philosophy by more than 40 percent; French and Italian, religion, art and archeology, chemical engineering and chemistry by more than 30 percent; and astrophysics, psychology and music by more than 20 percent.
Enrollment in humanities departments as a whole increased by 15 percent while science departments gained 11 percent.
At the same time, the history and politics departments have seen a decrease in enrollment by about 20 percent, Malkiel noted, adding that these departments maintain robust numbers.
The Major Choices initiative began three years ago after the associate chair of the chemistry department brought his concerns to the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC). Michael Hecht told the CPUC that the department was floundering, with just 13 members of the Class of 2004 majoring in chemistry.
"Several of us thought it could be a problem," Hecht said. "Princeton, in its image of itself, always talked about diversity ... but the most important kind of diversity on campus is intellectual diversity."
Hecht said that with only a few popular majors representing most of the student body, "we're becoming a very homogeneous community."
To develop more equal representation, Malkiel initiated a campaign to encourage enrollment in majors that are traditionally less popular. Two years ago, the University released the Major Choices booklet, which contained testimonials from Princeton graduates who had majored in less mainstream departments.
The department chairs and department representatives have also been working with the residential colleges to develop a wide range of programs including dinner discussions with faculty and upperclass concentrators, alumni panels, student forums for presenting JP and thesis research and social activities to bring together graduate students, upperclass concentrators and prospective concentrators.
The University has allocated resources to departments seeking to attract more concentrators, Malkiel said.
While majors such as comparative literature and classics have seen considerable growth within the last two years according to Malkiel's statistics, it is difficult to attribute these numbers to the department's campaign to attract more students, Harriet Flower, undergraduate chair of the classics department, said.
"We have done a lot, but I think most people choose majors on the basis of classes they've taken. I'm not sure they really make a choice based on pizza parties," Flower said. "In the end, it's going to come down to the courses and the professors, and also, some people come in with an interest."
Flower said she thinks Malkiel's initiative has had an impact because it has made people think differently about small majors.
Music department representative Dan Trueman said it is difficult to attribute his department's increase in majors to the initiative.
"I just don't know if that is simply an anomaly or a trend, and it's impossible to tell if the initiative had anything to do with it," Trueman said in an email.
Many small departments, such as geosciences and East Asian studies, have experienced little or no growth at all. Since it has only been two years since the initiative's commencement, however, many feel that it is too soon to know the full effects.
"Our numbers of majors have remained roughly the same, but Nancy Malkiel's policies are still very new, and the initiatives she has implemented were adopted in some cases just this past academic year, so it may be too soon to see the results," Amy Borovoy, undergraduate department representative of East Asian studies, said in an email.
Malkiel said that the increase in small majors' numbers is "worth noting," but added she had not expected to see immediate results from her initiative.
"This is a work in progress. You don't change the culture overnight, but I think we've made good strides in encouraging students to find a comfortable, challenging, enriching home in the department they most want to be in," Malkiel said. "That's what we're really after."
Related— University investigates major trends, seeks boost in smaller departments (Jan. 17, 2003) — Malkiel seeks more even major distribution (March 2, 2004) — Malkiel releases guide to smaller departments (Nov. 2, 2004) — Malkiel outlines plan for small departments (Nov. 12, 2004)
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