With the holidays looming, hundreds of newly declared Classics majors around the country will shortly return home and face a question that is all too familiar to their elder colleagues and, no doubt, to many readers of In Medias Res. It might be avoided as late as dessert, but at some point during a family gathering, a concerned parent, or aunt, or uncle, or cousin will turn to them and ask, with polite concern: “So. Classics, huh? What are you gonna do with that?”
This exchange is in some sense a rite of passage for young classicists, as they announce their intention to pursue an esoteric course of study in civilizations that to many seem impossibly distant from our own. But it also speaks to a very real anxiety that is radically altering the role that undergraduate education plays in students’ personal and professional development. As the cost of education has ballooned in recent decades, more and more students feel pressured to pursue undergraduate majors with obvious, direct professional applications. Humanities majors in general have suffered, but Classics has been hit particularly hard: according to a 2016 study by the Modern Language Association, Ancient Greek and Latin are among the five languages that have seen the steepest decline in college-level enrollments, dropping off by 43% and 26%, respectively. The perception that Classics majors lack employable skills is extremely discouraging to students who worry about having to pay off a mountain of loans after graduation, leading many to see their college years primarily as vocational rather than intellectual preparation.
That perception, of course, fundamentally misunderstands the value of a humanistic education, but its conclusion also isn’t borne out in reality. This summer, the development team of our Summer Humanities Internship researched former Classics majors in selected American cities and found that classicists in fact go on to professional success in a wide range of fields outside of academia. Many of these are in areas you might expect, such as education, law, journalism, and public policy, but a surprising number have gone on to work in fields like technology and finance, as well.
In order to push back against the growing skepticism of the humanities, and to serve as a resource for Classicists outside of academia, the Paideia Institute is proud to announce the launch of Nexus, a network for students of Classics who have gone on to build careers in other fields. Paideia supporters will already be familiar with the Legion Project, our effort to build a community of Classics PhDs who went on to non-academic careers. Extending that effort to Classics BAs, Nexus will connect working professionals who have an abiding interest in Classics and help them stay engaged with Latin and Greek, by bringing them together through meet-ups, reading groups, online classes, lectures, and events in their local areas.
Members will also make themselves available as a resource for students about to begin their careers. For these young classicists, it will serve as a career network, through which they can learn about employment opportunities and contact established professionals in areas of interest for guidance and assistance. We hope that Nexus will be a valuable tool as well for Classics departments around the country, who can point to the success of its members and encourage prospective majors that studying the ancient world can lead to long-term career success.
You can be a part of Nexus! If you are a former Classics major working outside of academia, click here to create a member profile. Current students at universities with Paideia institutional memberships will automatically be eligible to sign up using a university email address, browse the Nexus directory, and message members; if your university isn’t a member, talk to your department chair about joining!
Eric Simpson is Chief Development Officer for the Paideia Institute, and a former Classics major.