Published on February 24, 2014 | by Beau Bass


Want a degree in Jay Z, Kanye or cannabis? Go to the USA

Kanye West and Jay-Z perform on stage.

Jay-Z and Kanye West are two celebrities that are used as course subjects for unconventional degrees. [Flickr: Tyler Cummings]

University is all about new experiences, career exploration and knowledge.

However, a number of suspiciously non-academic sounding degrees have began to surface, particularly in the USA.

It may sound peculiar, but students are now being given the opportunity to study anything from Jay-Z and Kanye West to cannabis cultivation.

The growing obsession with celebrity and popular culture has now been translated into university courses.

English students at the University of Missouri now have the opportunity to take a full course studying the career and work of Jay-Z and Kanye West.

According to The Huffington Post the course looks at the career and work of Jay-Z and Kanye West from three perspectives:

  • Where do they fit within, and how do they change, the history of hip-hop music?
  • How is what they do similar to and different from what poets do?
  • How does their rise to both celebrity and corporate power alter what we understand as the American dream?

“In addition to listening to music and watching videos, students will also read Jay-Z’s Decoded; histories of and critical works on rap music by Jeff Chang, Adam Bradley, and others, and one or two good studies of how poetry works,” the article added.

Academic Value

Using celebrities as a focal point resulted in this class being filled to capacity in 2013. However, does the use of celebrity culture reduce the academic value of the course?

Andrew Hoberek, who teaches the course at Missouri University, wants to reinforce that students will not solely be learning about the power-duo: “What I taught was a one semester class, and not a full course of study. Students in the class major in a variety of things such as English and journalism, taking it as part of their overall program of study.”

Degrees are often expected to evolve due to ever-shifting patterns in our society; over the years celebrity culture has gained an enormous following and perhaps this explains why an increasing number of universities are using high profile celebrities as a unique selling point.

Degrees are often expected to evolve due to ever-shifting patterns in our society; over the years celebrity culture has gained an enormous following. 

Rutgers University is now allowing students to ascribe to celebrity culture with even more significance by allowing students to undertake a Politicising Beyoncé course.

Many will argue that these universities are using celebrities in order to increase student numbers and, as a result, the academic worth of the degrees is being undermined.

So is there anything of significance that you can learn from studying about Beyoncé? And will it be worth the tuition fees? Kevin Allred, a doctoral student who teaches the Politicising Beyoncé course, seems to think so.

“Students are going to learn a lot about the history of black feminism in the U.S. They are also going to hone their critical thinking skills and learn to be mindful consumers of pop culture,” Allred told Arts London News.

Within this economic climate students are often eager to know what kind of career benefits and applicable skills they can gain from the particular course they undertake.

A class devoted to Beyoncé may not necessarily make you the ideal candidate for an employer.

However, according to Allred, students who choose to study this course will “learn practical skills that will help them interact with other people, for whatever job or career they end up going into.”



Cannabis has been legalised in Colorado and Washington for medical and recreational purposes, with 20 more states allowing some form of cannabis production

Celebrity-focussed degrees are not the only ones that have people questioning their academic worth; Oaksterdam University offers a variety of courses on cannabis cultivation.

This institute in California is the world’s first university purely devoted to cannabis. So what can you expect to learn from this course?

A spokesperson for the university said: “These classes will teach you the history of cannabis, cannabis policy, state and federal law, making hash/tinctures/capsules/and other concentrates, making edibles and the physics of vapourising.

“You’ll also learn the chemical reactions that occur within our bodies when we ingest cannabis, medical and scientific findings regarding cannabis, economic studies done with cannabis, civics and your legal rights as a patient, as well as some basic horticulture.”

Considering Oaksterdam is not an accredited university, you may be concerned as what kind of education you will receive there.

As unconventional as the university and the courses it offers sound, there are in fact many career opportunities to come out of this that do not involve becoming a drug dealer.

Cannabis has been legalised in Colorado and Washington for medical and recreational purposes, and 20 states allow some form of cannabis production.

As a result, this unusual degree actually offers many job opportunities in a new market of cannabis cultivation.

Similar to the celebrity courses mentioned, student numbers are thriving at Oaksterdam University and there is even a waiting list to enrol, a sign that many students are opting for these more contemporary and unconventional degrees.

‘Fat studies’

A further course that a number of American universities are offering now which might surprise you is ‘fat studies.’

This is arguably a reaction to increasing obesity in Western society, which means that more focus is put on the concept of being fat.

As a result, a number of courses have come about in order to study the sociological effects.

George Washington University is one of many that now offer this course.

The class encourages students to think critically and politically of body size and aims to promote acceptance of all sizes.

In the UK, Durham University seems to be leading the way in terms of unexpected degrees as it also offers fat studies. Additionally, although not a degree on its own, Durham is also offering a Harry Potter module as part of its educational studies course that aims “to place the phenomenon that is Harry Potter in its social, cultural and educational context and understand some of the reasons for its popularity.”

These degrees all seem to be a reaction to the way in which society and culture has changed; perhaps many would have laughed if these courses were suggested a decade ago, perhaps some are laughing now.

Arguably, UAL offers it’s own range of niche courses, but these do not seem to be as unconventional as some of the ones cropping up in America.

Perhaps only time will tell how long it will take until these unorthodox studies make it across the pond.



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