The hottest majors on today's campuses echo employment trends.
Across the state and elsewhere, colleges are reporting booming popularity in computer, health and environmental-science departments. Administrators are creating new majors in those areas to meet the increased demand.
"Science and technology fields are very strong right now," says Paula Scarfone, a spokeswoman at Hood College in Frederick. She says students realize they'll "have a higher salary coming out of school with one of those majors than coming out with an English degree."
This trend is most evident in the health care field, where new professional opportunities are leading undergraduates into new majors.
At Baltimore's Morgan State University, for example, students majoring in biology almost always used to be planning on medical school, says Joan Robinson, chairwoman of the department.
The biology department's enrollment has quadrupled in seven years, as students prepare for careers as forensic scientists, health care administrators and lab researchers, as well as doctors.
Students' demands are prompting colleges to expand their offerings.
The University of Baltimore and Essex Community College are launching new allied health systems majors, combining courses in public policy with those in health fields.
"With explosive growth in the health care job market, students who are trained in the latest public policy will be valuable to many employers," says Karen Adams, a University of Baltimore spokeswoman.
At the University of Baltimore, a similar transformation has taken place in the Criminology, Criminal Justice and Social Justice Department.
The department has 212 majors, a 60 percent increase since 1991. Once the domain of students intent on a police career, it helps them prepare for careers in law and psychology, as well as with government agencies such as the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service and the FBI, says the department's chairman, Jeffrey Senese.
"We are definitely seeing much more diversity among the students," Senese says, adding that he has created new concentration areas -- government, applied psychology and forensic science -- to meet demand.
The Johns Hopkins University has gone a step further by creating an undergraduate major in an area normally reserved for graduate studies.
Neuroscience, a year-old major, combines courses from several departments, including psychology, biology, cognitive sciences and artificial intelligence. It is designed for such focused students as Joyce Hairston.
"I have always been interested in neuroscience, but there aren't too many schools that offer it as a separate major," says Hairston, a senior who plans to graduate with combined bachelor's and master's degrees in molecular and cellular neurology in 1998. "Now I can take classes that deal with exactly what I'm interested in."
Gene Ferrick, a University of Maryland, College Park administrator, hopes such focused students seek the new environmental science major to be offered at UMCP this fall.
With 13 concentrations -- from environmental politics and policy to earth surface processes to environmental economics -- it will train students for any of the areas in the expanding environmental professions.
But a downside exists to such dependence on the marketplace.
For example, computer science -- just re-emerging as a hot major -- suffered a big dip in interest in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the national economy dipped into recession.
Gwen Kaye, undergraduate program coordinator for computer science at the University of Maryland, College Park, describes the phenomenon:
"The highest registration was when colleges were first adding [computer science] as a major in the early '80s. Everybody thought you could start out making $80,000. Then reality hit. The economy was in a recession, and the jobs weren't that great. Computer science departments went into decline.
"But now the economy has picked up, and there are more and more computer jobs available," Kaye says. "Our department has 100 percent employment placement with an average starting salary of $38,000.
"I think that has a lot to do with why our registration is booming."
Her institution is not alone. Though fewer bachelor's degrees in computer science were awarded in Maryland in 1996 than a decade ago, college officials agree that computer science is thriving again.
Almost every Maryland campus is offering, or developing, a new computer-related major. A sampling includes computer engineering at Johns Hopkins and University System of Maryland campuses, computer graphics and visual communication at Catonsville Community College, and digital media at the Maryland Institute, College of Art.
The trend toward the practical appears to be siphoning off students from more theory-oriented majors, most notably theology, which has seen a 40 percent decrease in enrollment since 1986.
Other traditionally strong majors such as English and history are holding ground, but Joan Powers, vice president for enrollment management at Hood College, notes that humanities majors are increasingly taking on a second, more technical major.
"It really is a perception issue," Powers says. "Students who are liberal arts-educated, well rounded, are valuable to most employers, but students today feel that in order to compete they have to have technological skills."
Pub Date: 7/27/97