CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "What's your major?"
Five years ago, most college freshmen in West Virginia would have answered that they're studying education to become a teacher. Today, the most common answer to that question at West Virginia's colleges and universities falls within the areas of health and clinical sciences.
In 2012, nearly 2,000 health-related degrees were awarded in West Virginia -- more than any other degree. That's a 23 percent increase from 2008.
About 1,700 students graduated from college with a degree in education, a decrease of more than 8 percent since 2008.
In third place, at about 1,600 degrees awarded last year, are business, management and marketing majors.
Also at the top of the list for state graduates is a Regents bachelor of arts -- a degree specifically designed for adult students. In 2012, 943 Regents bachelor's degrees were awarded to West Virginians, a 32 percent increase over 2008.
RBAs allow nontraditional students to obtain college credit for "selected work and life experiences" that can be equated to college courses, and works around career demands and family obligations.
Jessica Tice, spokeswoman for West Virginia's Higher Education Policy Commission, said the state's recent push for a bigger focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is working.
Between 2007 and 2011, the number of STEM degrees and certifications increased by 12 percent.
In 2011, nearly 3,000 STEM-related degrees were awarded, which represents about 20 percent of all degrees conferred in the state that year, according to Tice.
"As the economy evolves and continues to diversify, that really is a continuing focus of the state higher education system," she said. "The rewards of those investments are pretty big -- from startup companies that begin with university-based research to federal grants and contracts that come to our institutions that our students benefit from."
The greatest increase in degrees in the state over a five-year span is in foreign languages, literature and linguistics. Nearly 120 degrees were awarded in those subjects in 2012 -- 45 percent more than in 2008.
The biggest decrease was in communication technologies, producing only 11 graduates last year. That's a decline of more than 47 percent.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.