There is a script in U.S. culture that many young people have memorized. “You have to go to college because that’s how you get a good job. There just aren’t as many opportunities without a degree.”
On the whole, it’s hard to say this isn’t true, although when you start to nuance things, it is up for debate. And one reason this blanket statement may not hold 100% true is this: majors matter.
At our school, one can major in Advertising, or in Public Relations, neither of which connected to majoring in Business. You can major in Media Production, with an emphasis in TV or Radio (amongst others.) And I must admit, I’m skeptical of these majors, especially since they come with a $52,000/year (tuition only, not room or board) price tag. At the same time, these are not fields I am particularly knowledgeable about; is PR the new Physics?
On the whole, research seems to lean towards the idea that not all majors are created equal. Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University notes in a recent Times’ Economix piece:
In 2009 the United States graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.
At the same time, “the number of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields) has been flat.” And STEM majors tend not only to find more work, but also higher paying work.
Basically, for those 89,000 students, it is much harder to claim that college will pay off–literally–than for those who study in a more in-demand field.
Unless you know of 90,000 acting gigs their agents just aren’t finding.
What are your thoughts? Do you lament that Comm. is the new English? Or do you find that the expansion of choices in majors help students study in their interest areas? Should majors matter? (And I didn’t even touch the role of community college education– did you know 28.2% of people with an Associate’s degree out-earn those with a Bachelor’s?)