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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Case for More Academic Minors

What would you do if you had access to a greater selection of academic minors? If you could try out several physics, psychology or economics classes, knowing you didn’t have to go through a comps to put something substantial on your CV? 

For most juniors and seniors, the path is already set for a major. But what if, in your very first year at Carleton College, there were more opportunities to engage in other departments? That path could easily change for many.

A broad, well-rounded education is what Carleton is all about. Opening up an academic minor in a department increases student participation and puts less pressure on dedication to one branch of study early on. 

A student with only moderate interest in a subject can still engage in it without the signature in blood that a major entails, while also getting a little something on the ol’ résumé for their effort. They would then also be able to participate with more than the fleeting, disinterested involvement frequently put towards required classes (one QRE endured, two to go). 

The academic minor provides a middle ground between the bare minimum of liberal arts participation requirements and a nose-dive into three or four years of classes in Asian studies, physics, studio art, etc. With a lesser commitment than a major but more than there would be for a Formal Reasoning or Humanistic Inquiry credit, one can feel free to broaden their interests, find something they truly love to study and perhaps even ultimately decide to major in another area.

Unfortunately, the minor’s middling nature, neither fundamental enough for a B.A. requirement nor specific enough for a comps, leaves the minor out of primary discussion. Student demand is often needed for a minor to ever surface.

This leads to a double-bind. Say a department has a relatively low number of students in their major program. They could try to open up a minor for the result of increased participation. However, since there is low demand from the few students they do have, it seems unreasonable to go through all the hassle and red tape ingrained in the process. Due to lukewarm support, it is less likely for any campaign of this nature to amass coordination and enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, another department may have a high number of students completing their major. Even if there was high demand from students for a minor, there would be hesitancy to go through the process, because in this case, greater participation hinders rather than helps. 

Anyone who’s tried to register for classes with a bad time slot (read: every Carleton student) knows the downsides of a popular class. There is a much greater chance for students who are less invested in the department to crowd out the ones who have greater need for their major requirements. There’s already enough participation, so again, why go through the red tape?

The former barrier (lack of support for lower-populated departments) is bureaucratic in nature. It requires extensive cooperation and coordination, to say nothing of desire, in order to kick off this rather sizable effort. 

To incentivize the challenging process of drafting and approving a minor program, I’ll now argue that the excuse of first needing demand puts the cart before the horse and ignores the long-term benefits of a minor.

Many undergrads go into college without a concrete idea of what they want to study. If they were given a larger range of minors to choose from and declare, there would be a greater number of individual paths to suit more students’ needs. Even if there is no initial demand for a minor program, incoming students would be much more likely to fill it in once the choice is material. 

To analogize, a river may be able to flow through an unfamiliar path by eroding the land for ages, but this process is prolonged and unfacilitated. In contrast, a canal may be dug such that the river flows there straight away. The act of creating the option itself may manifest demand into an area that might not have had much otherwise. As a result, faculty members will deal with greater enthusiasm from students that don’t feel constricted to fewer options.

The second barrier — too many students in higher-populated departments — has to do with which students to prioritize, and is a much greater dilemma. The minor’s electives could be made different from the major’s electives in order to get more students on board while still serving the ones engaged in majors. An increase in departmental resources may be required to extend to a greater number of students, although this may already be a priority among faculty. 

The initial issue of greater resources could precede the minor in urgency. In this case, support in the form of student graders and other assistants can accelerate the relief of pressure on the department and hasten the prospects of discourse on a minor program.

Of course, many departments do not fit into the two prior labels. Some have high numbers of students without many majors, while others have few students, most being highly devoted to the major program. Other matters not covered here may also complicate the facilitation of more minors. 

This is not to demoralize, as there has certainly been a lot of progress in this field since Carleton added the academic minor as an option only six years ago. A statistics-related minor is also currently in the works. There is still, however, much more work to do.

Benefits arise for students and faculty alike when there is more extensive infrastructure for academic minor programs. So, if you would like more pathways which might assist you or a future student in a grand academic and career-related journey, consider the case for more minors.

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