A report published this fall by the Office of Student Services found that for the first time, communication is the top choice as a major at BC, with 865 undergraduates currently enrolled. There are 863 students majoring in English, a perennial top finisher on the list, and the Carroll School of Management's undergraduate finance program is the third most popular major overall with 732 students enrolled.
Other popular majors this year include psychology (684), political science (626), biology (481) and marketing (427).
While the order of most-enrolled majors may change on a year-to-year basis, Student Services figures show a pattern of steady growth for communication and finance during the past two decades. In 1980, 417 students declared communication as their major, and 245 chose finance.
But by 1985, finance had become CSOM's most popular major, with 527 students enrolled, and its numbers have climbed steadily. The rise in communication majors has been more recent, and more dramatic, from 542 in 1997 to 734 last year.
Administrators also note that English has been in an upward trajectory during the past two decades. The fifth highest enrolled major at BC in 1980 - and fourth in A&S, after biology, political science and economics - English became the most popular field of study in 1985 and stayed that way until this year.
University administrators and faculty say there may be several explanations for this transition. The Boston College of 2000 is a significantly changed institution from the Boston College of 1980, they point out, its reputation and recruitment having taken on a far more national profile.
But as with most any other college and university, they say, the shifting interests and potential career goals of BC's student population are often reflected in the majors they choose. At a time when the Internet and Wall Street have become hotbeds, it is hardly surprising that undergraduates would want to study World Wide Web technology even as they read the works of Aristotle or Longfellow.
Fortunately, say administrators and faculty, Boston College is able to maintain its commitment to the classic Jesuit liberal arts tradition while helping students explore these new vistas.
"Education which can affect practice seems very much at the heart of Jesuit education," said Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John J. Neuhauser. "The caveat is that this education must be well grounded in strong moral and faith traditions."
Although communication and finance may contain elements of older disciplines, both are relatively new to the academic realm. Communication encompasses the study of rhetoric and debate as well as copyright law, television and radio production, according to department chairman Assoc. Prof. Dale Herbeck, and in recent years has benefited from the rise of the Internet and resulting expansion of the US economy.
Herbeck, noting that the department last year placed more graduates in on-line journalism jobs than in traditional media jobs, predicted courses on Internet technologies will take on more importance as newspapers, TV and radio continue to adapt to the new format.
CSOM Associate Dean for Undergraduates Richard Keeley said that finance, the study of revenues as they relate to banking and investment, has become popular due in large part to the expansion of the financial services industry. That growth has been a benefit to BC students because of the University's proximity to Boston's Financial District, a mecca for companies that specialize in those services.
But administrators cite the undergraduate core curriculum as the critical thread running through all courses of study at BC. Jesuit education, they say, emphasizes the defining works of the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences, while promoting the intellectual, moral and religious development of its students.
As Neuhauser points out, Jesuit education is not cloistered from the modern world, but rather strives to bring its unique perspective to contemporary issues and concerns.
A student majoring in communication, for example, must take the course Rhetorical Tradition, which is rooted in the Jesuit ideal of "perfect eloquence" where students are required to read Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Herbeck said that other course offerings in such areas as communications ethics and theological communications also offer ties to the University's Jesuit ideals.
CSOM administrators say that while the study of finance might not appear to lend itself directly to the Jesuit tradition, the appeal of well-rounded finance majors has a positive impact on recruiting.
"It's very appealing to employers," said Finance faculty member Prof. Robert Taggart. "They like that we aren't just producing management students here, but people with liberal arts training who can think."
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