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The Carletonian

Poly Sci popular major for the class of 2019

<st Friday, the majority of the sophomore class declared their academic majors. The overall breakdown of majors remains largely similar to that of previous years.

One of the most marked shifts is a large spike in the number of political science majors in the sophomore class. Although political science was the third most common major last year, with 43 students who declared, this year’s cohort contains an additional 11 majors, bringing the total to 54. This number, an increase of over 25 percent, ties political science with computer science as the most popular major this year. Each department now boasts 11.3 percent of the entire class of 2019.

The popularity of these two majors could prove a challenge for the already-packed departments, according to Chair of Political Science Greg Marfleet. There are enough courses offered that class size will likely remain similar because students are spread between the department’s many courses, Marfleet said.

However, he added that the increase is still “going to be tricky, especially when it comes to Comps time.” Many professors receive disproportionate numbers of Compsing students because their fields of interest are more popular than others, Marfleet added. This can lead to some professors being overburdened while others have much less work. “There’s no easy way to solve that problem because of the way we are topically specialized,” Marfleet said.

Grant Willis Ackerman ’19, a political science major, believes the election may have drawn new students into the field. “There were some classes targeted around the election. I know some people who took the classes because they wanted to know what was happening.”

Marfleet also added that the increase in the department’s size may be due to interest stirred up by recent political events. For instance, “the trends in our enrollment follow major events in world and domestic politics,” he said. “After 9/11, the run-up to the Iraq War and after the Iraq War, we had a pretty big spike in majors.”

Ackerman confirmed this sentiment. “I have talked to a lot of people who took political science classes related to the election and stuck around because they enjoyed the classes,” he said. “These are people who might not have otherwise taken political science classes.”

In fact, the increase in majors this year is offset by the fact that the political science department has traditionally had 50 or more majors per year. Marfleet believes that the Great Recession caused several years of reduced political interest, lowering the major’s average enrollment to the mid 40s.
“The 2008 financial crisis resulted in a little less attention to political issues, and economic issues and environmental issues came to the fore.” Thus, the recent return to around 50 majors is consistent with a typical level of popularity for the department over the years, Marfleet explained.

“I think Trump’s going to take credit for our major,” Marfleet said. “He’s going to tweet, ‘Political science majors way up.’ The election was kind of a wake-up call that we can’t ignore everyday politics. This political game has rules and we’re going to have to understand them if we’re going to win.”

“It’s not just Trump,” Marfleet said. “The focus, I think, has shifted in what’s constituting the major issues of our day. Sociological issues, while they’re still important, have been pushed aside by the major political issues of our day.”

The increase in political science majors may also help to explain movement away from some of Carleton’s other popular departments.

Three of Carleton’s larger programs, chemistry, economics, and math took a hit this year. Chemistry dropped from 33 majoring students to 26, and economics fell from 35 to 24. In economics’ case, this year’s enrollment is the lowest since 2001, when data were first collected. Math and statistics has experienced a slight decline in majors. In the class of 2018, there are 41 majors and only 37 currently declared majors in the class of 2019.

Computer science retained its recently acquired status as one of the most popular majors. Just a decade ago, there were only 20 computer science majors. That number has increased rapidly since the class of 2012 declared, plateauing at around 50 to 60 students in recent years.

The class of 2019 also favored majors that typically have few students. The sophomore class includes majors from all the same departments as the junior class, with previously unrepresented majors also present in this year’s cohort. In fact, every one of Carleton’s 33 majors is represented in the sophomore class.

Last year, the class of 2018 contained no Latin American studies, cognitive science or theater arts majors. The class of 2019, however, includes several majoring students in each of these departments.

Ceci Hart ’19, a theater arts major, is one of those students. Reflecting on her decision, she explained that she has been drawn to the subject her whole life.

“Theater is the art of making connections with people,” she said. “It’s about trust and belief and working together to transport a whole room full of people to a different place. It’s a kind of magic that I’ve yet to find paralleled anywhere else.”

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