During the drive home after a day spent at Plum Beach in Newbury, Mass., in 2011, a father and daughter stopped to check out a small beach they had never seen before. They began walking down the stretch checking out all that it had to offer
Tyler Vendetti, at that time an 18-year-old about to start her freshmen year of college, walked along the shore with her father. She began to feel the air getting colder, even though it was a bright sunny day. She found herself squinting the entire time they were walking.
In the distance, they saw a small beach house. It was a small, light- blue house- nothing fancy, but a nice place to call home for the summer.
“Would you want a little beach house like that?” her dad asked.
“Of course!” Vendetti replied. “It is adorable!”
“Too bad you won’t be able to afford it, English major,” her dad said with a laugh.
It got darker and the gnats began to invade. Vendetti and her dad got back into the car. But the conversation continued.
He asked her if she had considered becoming an engineer or scientist, mentioning their comparatively higher salaries to make his point.
Vendetti fumed the entire ride home.
It was not just her father who questioned her choice of major.
“Saying, ‘my family was skeptical about my English major,’ would be an understatement,” she said.
An aunt laughed in her face when she told her that she would major in English.
“I graduated with a degree in psychology,” her aunt said. “Now I’m back in school for real estate. Mix it with something more useful, like business.”
In response to all of this negativity, Vendetti decided to do some research. It was time to prove just how successful English majors could be. She decided to share her thoughts on a blog.
“I looked up some famous English majors and some jobs that you could get with an English degree," she said
Vendetti posted a rant on her personal blog.
Thought Catalog picked up on it and she is now a regular contributor.
Thought Catalog is a website used for people who want to share their stories and ideas. They need to submit their papers through an application online, and then they are contacted if their story is chosen.
English majors along with other students who major in the humanities, are feeling the need to defend themselves at a time when they are expected to make a larger salary.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, since the 1970's there has been a fluctuation in the numbers of students who are English majors.
From this chart, it is shown that the English major took a decline in the 1970's. The numbers have become steady since the 1980's. The business major has been on a huge incline since the 1970's, having almost triple the number of majors than English.
Lately, there has been a push for the STEM majors, (science, technology, engineering and math). Even President Obama has been known to push for children to become interested in these majors.
Even local televisions will do weekly stories about students who are making an impact in the STEM community.
Throughout the last few years there have been many articles and blog posts that address the issue of English declining as a major. In a Washington Post article written in April 2015 looked at various colleges and shows a decline in English.
In January 2015, an article written by Colleen Flaherty showcases what has been happening in colleges such as University of Maryland College Park.
Their numbers have been drastically decreasing for the past three years.
"My interviewees' sense is that we will see a continued decline in the 2014 and 2015 figures, as students who started college immediately after the recession continue to graduate," Flaherty said.
While she said that this is a more focused story, there were national trends she wanted to put into her story.
At Towson University the numbers are not as drastic. According to Chris Cain, who is the assistant chair of the English department says there is a decline, but not nearly as bad as skeptics of the major may think it is.
"I think it's mostly just a reflex of two things: the University turning off the enrollment growth spigot and the economy," Cain said.
He explains that when the University grows, so does the department, and the same when the University shrinks.
"With the economy, one thing that clearly happens in higher ed is that people pile into college when the labor market is weak," Cain said. "When the labor market improves, fewer people go to college (or go and stay there for a degree)."
He said that the higher numbers in 2007-2008 and 2012 was most likely driven by the recession.
At one point the number of English majors at Towson was 475 students, which was an all-time high, according to Cain. As of spring 2012 there has been a 12% decrease with only 418 majors now, according to Cain. He says this decrease is not as drastic as other majors at Towson.
English majors at college campuses may be decreasing, but there are some that are really making a statement. At Towson, a set of English majors have started their own academic journal.
In a small room in the Liberal Arts Building on Towson’s campus, a group of 11 Towson English majors and alumni meet every Thursday at 5 p.m.
On this evening, club director Jose Diaz brings the group to order and tells every one about upcoming activities. They need to start proofreading submissions for the first English academic journal at Towson, Discourse, which they started.
“It is really great, it is like, ‘oh yeah we have an academic journal’ but it’s like…” Diaz said
“Yeah then you got to read 20 papers!” exclaimed Laurel Abel, a member of the forum. She graduated from Towson in December 2014, with an English/Writing degree.
Diaz grabs the stack of papers and closely looks through them.
“I will take this one because it looks really thin, and I will take this one for myself,” he said as he passes the papers around the room.
The other 10 members in the room begin a mix of laughing and complaining.
“I have been doing a lot of proofreading!” Diaz replied.
Diaz is noticeably not of typical college age. He wears his sunglasses a top his bald head.
Diaz was actually in the military for almost 14 years. It is the reason he is an English major. He wants to write about all he has seen.
"I would like someone to pay me so I could write,” Diaz said. “That would be the dream.”
The other members of the group are reading and editing the piece they selected. Each one of them marking with their pens or pencils. They want to be sure the entries for their journal are perfect.
They hope to have the journal out by the end of this semester.
Some members of the group had to deal with family and friends questioning their choice of major.
George Chijioke a sophomore, said that his family reacted negatively when he told them his course of study.
“They were like, ‘yeah it is not a real major, you’re not going to find a job’ the usual,” Chijioke said.
Sydney Chanmugam, sophomore, is vice president of the club and said most of the questioning she received came from people her age.
“It used to bother me a lot, because I did not know what to say to it, but it is just something I am so passionate about it does not bother me anymore,” said Chanmugam.
Job security and salary are two reasons that English majors get criticism. Some believe these are the main reasons not to go into the field.
Pat Duffy, 28, wrote a blog post a few years ago that pleads young people not to become an English major.
“I laugh at English majors and I am one,” Duffey said. “You should not have to defend any major, but I found myself doing that.”
Duffey, who is a writer for a television show now, wishes that he would have majored in film and television.
“The one thing you can do is be an English teacher,” Duffey said. “At the time I thought I was making the right decision.”
However, there are many who disagree with thinking that teaching is the only option.
"Quite a few go directly into teaching, which provides very good starting wages/benefits for new grads," Cain said.
He said that some do go into law school and grad school, and some students at Towson go into the Peace Corps. Many find good work after they graduate in private- and public-sector jobs, according to Cain.
Jonathan Vincent,a Towson University English professor has researched thoroughly on the topic of the status of English majors.
"Parents are scared to send their children in to a field in which they cannot immediately see some applicable vocation," Vincent said.
He said that a parent would not be happy to have spent all their money for their child to become, say, a poet.
In a 2015 study by PayScale,a real-time salary survey company, looked at almost all majors and averaged out a starting salary and mid-career salary.
At the top of the list was engineering, and near the back of the list is the humanities.
"The humanities enjoyed the highest enrollments during the golden age of the 1960's,” Vincent said. “For instance when people were trying to imagine ‘what it all means’, the best of all possible worlds."
Technology has made a huge impact on children and reading as well. Vincent points out that many children these days have an iPad or IPhone, and watch much more television then they used to.
There were times when all children could really do was play outside, or read. Now so many are sitting on an IPad playing games.
Tyler, now 21 years old, is an intern at Viacom for TV Land in its On-Air Promotions department. She also work as a freelance writer on the side for HelloGiggles and Thought Catalog.
She maintains that being an English major does lead to job opportunities.
“That mindset, that you won’t get a job with a liberal arts degree, is what is dragging English, and other majors, down,” she said.
She says that she hopes to work in the television field. While that does not have anything that outwardly relates to English, she says that many things she has learned have helped her.
"The ability to recognize themes and symbols in a narrative and the ability to produce polished writing can be utilized within creative industries," she said.
She uses the example of a TV writers assistant, showing that they need to be able to see character and plot development to see good scripts from bad ones.
Vendetti is always going to fight for her major. Her blog was only the beginning.
“Defending the English major has become part of my job description, it seems,” she said.
She encourages people to stop assuming that English is only one thing and that it can lead to many opportunities.
“The English Major is so much more than just reading books,” she said.
She says that her dad never formally apologized.
However once she began to continuously post pieces online he could see English produces opportunities.
"I think he realized that I wasn't just a book worm with a knack for analyzing novels," she said. "I was actually able to apply some of my skills to the real world."