Why Are WSU Undergraduate Sociology Enrollments Rising?

By Alana Inlow

WSU Sociology enrollments for the spring semester both online through the Global Campus and in-person in Pullman increased about 20% compared to last spring semester. Our Global Campus enrollments in sociology are at an all-time high, and we believe more increases are on the way.

Undergraduate sociology major, Leo Covarrubias with department chair, Monica Johnson, standing next to Leo’s poster, presented at the Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA).
Undergraduate sociology major Leo Covarrubias and department chair Monica Johnson stand beside Leo’s poster at WSU’s 2019 Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA).

The last two years have witnessed many changes aimed at better meeting the needs of our students. These new offerings focus on the skills essential to working and living in a multicultural world, with an emphasis on solving practical problems.

Among the reasons for increased interest in sociology courses:

  1. A new At-Risk Youth minor which focuses on helping students understand the pressures that contribute to delinquent and deviant behavior.
  2. A new minor in Workplace Diversity, which aims to increase intercultural understandings and cross-cultural skills applicable to the workplace.
  3. A new online sociology major as part of WSU’s Global Campus course offerings.

The At-Risk Youth minor prepares students to work with youth by offering coursework in youth and society, delinquency, and social control. It complements students’ training in various academic focuses by helping them understand youth behaviors in social contexts that often contribute to delinquent behavior. This new minor is attracting students from several different departments, making sociology an important aspect of their WSU education.

The Workplace Diversity minor is designed specifically to help students understand cultures different from their own and develop skills essential to the increasingly global-oriented work force. Many businesses are looking for individuals with knowledge of diverse populations and cultural competencies. These skills are important, no matter what their position in the organization might be. This new minor is especially critical in this time of increased diversity within the work force and the globalization of our national economy.

Undergraduate major, Leo Covarrubias conversing with a SURCA judge about his research.
Covarrubias tells a SURCA judge about his research.

Creation of the Global Campus online major in sociology is a much-needed development. For many years, sociology faculty have offered online courses on a variety of topics that attracted a significant number of students as part of a general social science major. Now, students can declare an online major in sociology, which some have already done. Our first online bachelor’s degree will be awarded this May. This major enables us to bring the WSU sociology degree to place-bound students wherever they might live.

According to sociology faculty member Sarah Whitley, employers are beginning to see online degrees as equal to traditional degrees, obtained through primarily in-person courses. Not only employers but students around the country also are beginning to see the value in online degrees.

Consequently, our department and faculty are working hard to create online courses that mirror in-person courses closely and offer a comparable experience for students who wish to complete their degrees online. Whitley also noted that the department now has a rotation of courses between in-person and online offerings. Thus, it is possible that students who need a course in a particular semester can sometimes enroll online instead of waiting for it to be offered later on the Pullman or Vancouver campuses.

New concentration and career-focus areas

In addition to the new minors, the Sociology Department has identified three concentration areas for sociology majors. These tracks allow students to develop an emphasis on work and family, sustainable societies, and/or crime–deviance–social control. Several career focuses also are built into the slate of courses being offered in the department. These include emphases on business, law, community services, publishing, health services, social services, education, and teaching.

Undergraduate Sociology Club members, Briseida Soberanes, Jorden Calloway, and Julius Kim, fundraising on campus.
Undergraduate Sociology Club members (l-r) Briseida Soberanes, Jorden Calloway, and Julius Kim, fundraising on campus.

The concentrations for sociology majors and minors provide students with the expertise that is increasingly essential for entering the labor market. Students become more attractive to prospective employers when they graduate with applicable skills that the sociology major can offer, including analytic problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, expressive and persuasive writing skills, and multicultural and global understandings.

Whitley and Kristin Cutler, both of whom recently became clinical faculty in the Sociology Department, are dedicated to undergraduate sociology. Whitley’s focus is on advising undergraduates on their future career options, while Cutler’s emphasis is on launching the Global Campus major.

I spoke with Whitley about the state of our undergraduate sociology program. She stressed the fact that more employers now look for graduates with double majors, minors, and/or certificates in the social sciences. The options our department now offers provide students with these helpful, and often essential, qualifications.

Whitley, reflected on these recent improvements in the sociology curriculum by noting that a new certificate in sustainable organizational leadership, a joint effort between the Sociology Department and WSU Carson College of Business, has been getting a lot of attention. Many prospective employers are looking for students knowledgeable about ethics, organizational sustainability, and sustainable consumption.

Particularly attractive to business students are courses on social inequality, shopping and consumption, sociology of food, society and environment, and connections between management and leadership. Whitley also noted that, “Many businesses and graduate programs in business are interested in students with social science backgrounds.”

Undergraduate Sociology Club members, Lysandra Perez and Chardonae Odegard fundraising on campus.
Undergraduate Sociology Club members Lysandra Perez and Chardonae Odegard helped raise funds on campus for club activities.

The undergraduate sociology major at WSU is now attracting students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to take our courses, add one of our minors, or even to become a sociology major, as described in Why I am Majoring in Sociology (the subsequent article). Currently, 110 students are enrolled as sociology majors on the Pullman campus along with 49 students in the minor track (including the traditional sociology minor, the at-risk-youth minor, and the workplace diversity minor).

One example of a student excelling in their work as an undergraduate sociology major is Lysandra Perez. She was featured in a WSU Impact article earlier this school year. >>Read it here.

Because of alumni and other friends of sociology, the department is able to provide scholarship assistance to sociology majors that help them obtain their degrees.

In 2019 the department expects to award about $60,000 in scholarships. We thank the generous donors who support our work and help make sociological interests and knowledge integral to more students’ lives.

As we continue to grow our course offerings and garner more student interest in our department, we would like to thank former and current faculty, staff, and students for making the Department of Sociology what it is today.