By Molly Zatman

Copy Editor


The Jewish studies major at the University of Maryland used to have over 30 students. This fall, there were five registered students.

The Jewish studies major always had low enrollment, but during the early 2000s, the program experienced a spike. This was because UMD enrolled in the Academic Common Market, which allowed out-of-state residents pursuing a specific major not available at their state college to come to UMD for a highly discounted price.

Students from southern states, like Tennessee and Georgia, were drawn in by the convenient combination. But in summer 2012, UMD announced it would be withdrawing from the Academic Common Market. Following this decision, the number of out-of-state students (excluding international students, who were unaffected by the withdrawal) dipped for several years.

The Jewish studies major was disproportionately affected. According to Maxine Grossman, Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Program and Center for Jewish Studies, the revoked financial incentive and increasing focus on STEM careers contributed to the program’s exceptional decline.

“[R]ecent economic retrenchment and negative rhetoric regarding job prospects for liberal arts majors have led families and students to be increasingly interested in pre-professional fields that are perceived to offer a direct path to jobs,” Grossman said.

Not only are less people committing to UMD for the Jewish studies program, but within the university, there are less people declaring the major.

“[In 2012] we saw a shift from the University’s CORE requirements of three humanities classes to the new General Education curriculum, which requires only two… Jewish Studies, unlike Engineering or Marketing, is a major that many students only learn about when they get to college, so those lower-level course seats had been a way of introducing future majors to our program. This, too, led to a dropoff in our major numbers,” Grossman wrote in an email.

The program has been attempting to get more students by updating the requirements for the major. The program used to require dozens of Hebrew language credits, which has since been dropped, and has been remodeled to fit most students’ general education requirements.

The major has seen a slight increase in enrollment since this change, though the number of students has consistently been below 10 the past few years.

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“I think they have to publicize the new requirements better. If people realize it’s not as rigorous and more flexible now, it’ll attract more students,” Carin said.

She also says part of the major’s low enrollment may have to do with preconceived notions of what comprises “Jewish studies.”

“When people think Jewish studies, they think religion. But there’s so much more. All my classes are history based. I can tell you anything that’s gone on in Europe in the past century through a Jewish lens,” Carin said. She emphasized that the department may want to work on expelling the notion to attract a wider audience.

But, Carin added, she loves the program’s current size. She can list every single person in her major, knows all her professors personally and feels there’s a strong sense of community.

Elaine Berger, a sophomore majoring in business management and Jewish studies, says she has mixed feelings on the small size.

“You get a lot of attention from professors. But from a viability standpoint, I wish it would grow. Because if a professor leaves, I don’t know if they’ll be replaced. And from a social standpoint, there could be more of a community,” Berger said.

Grossman is focused on using post-COVID growth to expand the Jewish studies major, offerings, and department.

This spring, the department will partner with the Do Good Institute and the School of Public Policy to offer Arts & Humanities in Social Innovation, Change, and Justice: Do Good Now, a course for students interested in working in Jewish studies in the non-profit sector.

Students like Berger have other ideas for how to attract interest.

“I hope they hire some fresh blood. Right now the professors are on the older side, and while that appeals to me, that doesn’t necessarily appeal to other students,” Berger said. “And some of the courses we can use to fulfill [the major] aren’t even offered, so some guidance on what’s being offered and what we can do would be nice.”


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