The University of Mississippi offers over 100 degrees in a wide variety of subjects that range over 11 schools. Two in particular, physics and elementary education, are consistently on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to numbers of degrees awarded each year.
According to the Ole Miss Office of Institutional Research, physics majors are a rare breed. The university awarded five undergraduate physics degrees in 2015, one in 2014 and three in 2013. The chair of the department, Lucien Cremaldi, says people may underestimate what you can do with a physics degree.
“Physics majors develop special techniques of thinking about problems and generally, most engineering firms will hire physics majors just as easy as engineers,” says Cremaldi.
According the Guardian, the number of students taking physics at a college level has fallen 38 percent since 1990. Physics graduate student B.B. Pilgrim says many students may just not feel they are cut out for the program.
“It takes a particular type of thinking to be able to tackle a lot of [physics] problems.” said Pilgrim.
On the other hand, Ole Miss research indicates that the elementary education program has consistently ranked near the top in terms of degrees awarded. In 2015, 199 students earned elementary ed degrees, 190 in 2014 and 242 in 2013.
The dean of the School of Education, David Rock, credits the program’s popularity to the hands-on instruction included.
“First, student teaching is a year-long placement,” said Rock. He also points to the value of a new type of technology called TLE TeachLivE™. Rock describes it as “a virtual animated space where education students teach 5 animated avatar children in front of an 80-inch monitor.”
Elementary education graduate student Shelby Chambliss agrees that learning by doing is a key benefit to the program.
“Specifically, it’s the fact that they get us into a school and they start giving you classroom experience when you’re a sophomore and continue try to teach you applicable things that you can use in the classroom.”
The School of Education’s enrollment is down slightly this year, but the need for well-trained teachers will likely never diminish. And though far fewer students graduate with physics degrees, that subject is an important foundation for many other degrees across the campus. Ultimately, big programs and small are playing an important role at one of the fastest growing universities in the region.