By Scott Muir, Study the Humanities project director

In the context of the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread decline in humanities majors and enrollments precipitated by the last recession, faculty and administrators across the humanities are redoubling their efforts to attract more students. Over the past three years, the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) has been researching the field of undergraduate humanities recruitment to identify effective approaches that can be adapted across disciplines and institutional contexts. At the 2021 Virtual NHA Annual Meeting in March, we released Strategies for Recruiting Students to the Humanities: A Comprehensive Resource, which highlights a wide range of strategies through over 100 exemplary initiatives. The report is part of NHA’s Study the Humanities initiative, which, with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, supports faculty and administrators in recruiting undergraduates to the humanities.

NHA’s new 80-page resource is grounded in a survey of more than 400 faculty and administrators at over 300 institutions and interviews with project directors of successful initiatives. The report’s four chapters highlight broad strategies that have been effective across a wide variety of institutions: articulating career pathways, curricular innovations, cultivating a marketing mindset, and fostering humanities identity and community. Each chapter presents a wide menu of options to draw upon rather than a prescribed approach. They illustrate the range of approaches 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 highlight 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.

The resource features initiatives involving political scientists, such as Northeastern University’s joint major in politics, philosophy, and economics (page 25) and the Water in Central Eurasia project at the University of Pittsburgh (pages 43-44). There are also lots of pan-humanities initiatives, from collaborations with career services and admissions to interdisciplinary curricular innovations and cohort programs. But there are also dozens of promising initiatives launched from within other humanities disciplines that MPSA members might adapt, such as strategies for leveraging social media and student ambassadors to boost marketing efforts and models for courses that integrate career preparation and advanced disciplinary instruction for majors.

In this way, Strategies for Recruiting Students to the Humanities serves to complement the efforts of scholarly societies to promote their disciplines. These strategies for promoting the discipline can be combined with collaborative pan-humanities approaches that address challenges that impact all humanities departments, such as concerns about job prospects, and expand the humanities reach through interdisciplinary programs. The question is, “what makes sense on your campus?”

We are also committed to convening a pan-humanities community of practice around this work through regular opportunities to support one another’s efforts. At the Annual Meeting, we delved into several strategies with 19 leaders of initiatives featured in Strategies for Recruiting Students to the Humanities. In the coming months, we will continue to convene 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 that you will consider joining us. By learning from one another, we can help revitalize humanities undergraduate education.

Scott Muir leads Study the Humanities, an initiative that provides humanities faculty, administrators, and advocates with evidence-based resources and strategies to make the case for studying the humanities as an undergraduate. Scott earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Duke University, an M.T.S. from Emory University, and a B.A. from Dartmouth College. His research explores the religious histories of college campuses and the religious dimensions of contemporary camping music festivals. He has taught at Duke, Emory, and Western Carolina University.