The problem with English majors is that they are now here

Nicholas Goldberg: Where have all the English majors gone?

The answer is they’re now here.

Last year I predicted that English majors would continue to be a very small proportion of the English population. This was based on a study that showed that of students at four year institutions, 76.1 per cent have no major. When the universities added in the non-degree students the proportion shot up to 86.1 per cent, and this is of course the figure who are the English majors.

The number of students who do have a degree, at least in part, has increased considerably. The proportion who have had some sort of qualification has almost doubled. The proportion of undergraduates who have an undergraduate degree is now 51.1 per cent and has gone up steadily.

The proportion of students who have completed a Bachelor of Literature degree has gone up from 19.1 per cent last year to 27.6 per cent today.

The proportion who had an Honours degree has gone up from 9.4 per cent to 11.7 per cent. Only in the areas of law and medicine has the proportion remained constant.

The figures are important because – as I predicted last year – the number of students who do have major English degrees will continue to increase over the next five years, and the proportion who have a degree will continue to increase even faster.

The problem, however, is that most English majors are going to see their numbers decline. Many are leaving the university and going to jobs that pay less than that of an English lecturer does. They are not going to go to law or medicine because these are the subjects where the job prospects are likely to be higher. They are going to go to areas where their prospects are lower.

The only ones left who are going to be English majors are the ones going on to teach English as a Second Language (ESL).

This is not a problem that will go away, but it is not a significant problem either. In the next couple of years, English teachers will be entering the job market. It will mean that around one in four English teachers will be going into ESL. Most will

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