Understanding the Value of Humanities Programs at Community Colleges
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Understanding the Value of Humanities Programs at Community Colleges

To promote humanities programs, community colleges should emphasize their broad desirability as well as their inherent worth.

In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on STEM programs in higher education—courses focused on Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM degrees are generally in high-demand fields with better salaries and greater perks than others. The promotion of these programs has left many humanities programs feeling both overlooked and undervalued. If STEM is getting all the attention, where does that leave them?

Well, for community colleges, there is some good news: while on the decline in four-year institutions, enrollment in humanities classes at community colleges has increased. There are many reasons for their success, including institutional and state requirements, but their ongoing popularity also demonstrates their worth. For community colleges interested in promoting their humanities programs, here are seven key benefits.

1. They help students prepare for office environments.

By far the most common humanities programs in community colleges are English composition courses. Often these are mandatory classes as part of a degree program or certificate, but that’s for good reason. One of the most important skills a student can learn is to communicate clearly and effectively. A college-level grounding in composition can be of use to students while working a job, and also improve their chances in finding one.

2. They are a first choice for transfer credits.

Many community colleges act as transfer gateways for students who are hoping to save on tuition during the first couple years of college. During this time, many students try to load up on general education requirements so that the bulk of their time at a four-year institution is focused on their area of study rather than electives. Community colleges who have established a transfer pathway with other institutions should ensure their students understand what their credit requirements are so as not to duplicate their efforts.

3. Skills learned in the humanities are resilient to automation.

Every time a new headline breaks about the capabilities of robots and artificial intelligence, concerns rise about the impact these technologies will have on employment. The most common response is that machines will take over tedious, repeatable tasks that humans aren’t well-suited for so that workers can focus on jobs that center on things humans do best: creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. These are precisely the skills that humanities degrees help cultivate.

4. Community colleges provide essential language education.

After English composition, the largest share of students enrolled in humanities programs at community colleges are in some form of language program—either ESL (English as a Second Language), or LOTE (languages other than English). The value of ESL programs hardly needs to be stated. For those who don’t speak English as a first (or second, or third) language, employment prospects in the United States are limited. ESL programs open up new possibilities for their lives. Meanwhile, LOTE courses can be the jumping off point for an English-speaking student to grow in proficiency in another language—a skill that is both interesting in its own right, and also valuable in an increasingly globalized world.

5. Humanities courses are popular among dual-enrolled high school students.

For high school students hoping to graduate with some college credit under their belts, humanities courses are some of the most popular. It helps that these courses frequently overlap with AP classes they might otherwise be taking at their schools. Community colleges can attract more high school students to their programs by coordinating with school counselors so that students know this option is available to them.

6. Humanities can provide cross-discipline insight.

Increasingly, STEM careers are running into situations where knowledge of humanities subjects would provide useful background information in fields of study. For instance, programmers working with natural language processing in artificial intelligence benefit from backgrounds in linguistics; engineers can improve their product designs by being aware of various forms of implicit bias; and interface developers can reduce frustration by understanding psychology. Having this knowledge not only adds a point of interest to a graduate’s resume—it provides a useful job skill.

7. Success in humanities courses is a good predictor of degree completion.

Finally, students who do well in humanities courses at their community college tend to go on to have similar academic achievements after they transfer to a four-year institution. According to a recent report from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University:

  • “Nationally, 57 percent of students who earn As in community college courses in these fields transfer to a four-year college, compared with 31 percent of students who earn Cs. For each drop in letter grade, the probability of transfer goes down by about a third.
  • “Nationally, 77 percent of transfer students who earn As in community college courses in these fields complete bachelor’s degrees, compared with 46 percent of students who earn Cs.”

Helping students master the academic skills required to excel in a humanities program at a community college is clearly good preparation for further academic success.

As courses that promote soft skills and critical thinking, humanities programs are vital to community college curriculums.

The value provided by humanities programs is often harder to trace than those provided by STEM courses. But the intangible benefits may be more far-reaching than many realize, and shouldn’t be discounted. Community colleges should continue to market these programs to their students by highlighting ways in which the growth of soft skills can aid their academic and professional careers.

For community colleges with strong dual-enrollment or transfer programs, a marketing campaign emphasizing the value of a humanities program along these pathways can be especially effective. At Aperture Content Marketing, we specialize in marketing communications that provide students with the details they need to determine if a program is best for them. If you would like to learn more about our capabilities, contact us today.