Launching Strategies for Recruiting Students to the Humanities

After a decade of widespread decline in humanities majors and enrollments and in the face of formidable new pressures precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for effective humanities recruitment strategies has never been clearer. Fortunately, humanists across the country have been busy innovating new approaches to attract more students to the humanities that others can learn from. Our new report, Strategies for Recruiting Students to the Humanities: A Comprehensive Resource, launched at the 2021 NHA Annual Meeting in March, presents a wide menu of strategies for faculty and administrators to draw upon as they work to boost humanities majors and enrollments.

This 80-page resource, which draws on more than 400 responses to our 2019 Humanities Recruitment Survey, highlights over 100 exemplary initiatives from a wide variety of institutional contexts. It is divided into four chapters—(1) Articulating Career Pathways, (2) Curricular Innovations, (3) Cultivating a Marketing Mindset, and (4) Fostering Humanities Identity and Community—each of which presents a wide menu of options to draw upon rather than a prescribed approach. We illustrate the range of approaches within these four chapters with Project Snapshots—brief descriptions of exemplary initiatives—and Voices from the Field—quotes from faculty and administrators about the value of these approaches in different institutional contexts. Impact Research Spotlights illustrate key student outcomes through quantitative and qualitative data gathered through our impact research partnerships. Each chapter culminates with in-depth case studies of particularly robust initiatives that offer models for integrating strategies, engaging students, and building partnerships to make initiatives sustainable. We encourage you to share the resource with your colleagues and take inspiration from the models presented.

We are also committed to convening a community of practice around this work through regular opportunities to support one another’s efforts. At the Annual Meeting, we hosted six sessions featuring leaders of different kinds of initiatives highlighted in the resource. We heard leaders in the national effort to better articulate humanities career pathways pitch strategies to help humanities majors succeed in a tough job market, faculty involved in major outreach initiatives identify various ways to connect with prospective students (including community college transfers) as they transition to campus, and department chairs share the mix of approaches they had developed to attract more majors. We also heard lessons learned from humanities faculty and administrators who had successfully navigated existential threats to humanities programs on their campuses and moved to strengthen those programs going forward. Finally, we kicked off the next phase of our research, through which we will work to identify strategies that are succeeding in attracting and engaging underrepresented students throughout their undergraduate careers, with sessions on strategies for building an inclusive, magnetic humanities community and promoting social and racial justice through place-based learning. 

Participants shared their appreciation for these sessions and the community of practice formed through them via an event feedback survey. “I loved hearing different ways that departments, colleges, and universities have turned enrollment/recruitment problems into solutions,” shared one respondent. “It gave me a lot of different ideas and strategies.” Another attendee described “gaining energy and a renewed sense of purpose from the amazing work being done across the country.”

In the coming months, we will continue to gather this community through a series of virtual events that will leverage Strategies for Recruiting Students to the Humanities: A Comprehensive Resource to encourage new innovations and initiatives. We hope you will consider joining us to learn about the recruitment strategies your colleagues around the country have developed and envision what might be possible on your campus. 

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