The number of English concentrators — what most other colleges call "majors" — at Harvard declined to 144 in 2016 from 236 in 2008. The number of history concentrators declined to 146 from 231 over the same period of time. Government and comparative literature also shrank. So did African and Afro-American Studies, which declined to a mere 6 concentrators in 2016 from 21 in 2008, the Harvard Crimson reports.
What are students studying instead? "Applied STEM." "Statistics blossomed from just 17 concentrators in 2008 to 163 in 2016. Computer Science now counts 363 concentrators, up from 86 in 2008, and Applied Mathematics more than doubled in size over that time frame—from 101 to 279 students," the newspaper reports.
The news article doesn't delve too deeply into the "why." Part of it may involve a post-financial crisis focus by students on fields where high-paying jobs are available, like high-tech and data analysis. Part of it may be a response to Harvard's own planning and intentional deployment of resources in these areas, especially engineering. Part of it may be the increasing internationalization of the university. A piece of it may be that the humanities themselves have gone so far politically left or just arcane and obscure that students who don't themselves plan to become humanities professors have a hard time seeing how studying these fields might help them in post-college endeavors. One can condemn the students as mercenaries (though given college costs who can fault them for wanting to recoup in earning power) or one can condemn the professors as irrelevant.
Either way, it's a newsworthy situation. One reason private colleges and universities are facing the imposition of a 1.4% tax on their endowment income is that Republican lawmakers don't perceive the value of the scholarship that some of these institutions are producing. It looks like in some fields, the students aren't perceiving great value, either, at least to judge by their choices of concentration. Maybe it's a misperception, or maybe the politicians and computer science majors are onto something. I was a Harvard history concentrator and got a lot out of it, but that was a couple of decades ago. The current Harvard president is a historian by training, but she is stepping down. Her successor may want to take a close and fresh look at this early on. Or the search committee may want to ask candidates for the presidency what they make of it.