Most Useless College Majors
The major you choose in college will have an impact on your future.
Newsweek is out with a list of what it calls the “Most Useless College Majors.” The list is based upon a Georgetown University study [PDF] that examines the earnings levels and unemployment rates for recent and “experienced” graduates with a wide variety of degrees. You can check out the Newsweek breakdown for yourself, but here’s the list from 1 to 13:
- Fine Arts
- Drama And Theater Arts
- Film, Video, and Photographic Arts
- Commercial Art and Graphic Design
- Philosophy And Religious Studies
- English Literature And Language
- Anthropology and Archeology
- Hospitality Management
- Political Science and Government
Of course, there are some majors on the list whose presence is entirely unsurprising. Fine arts, philosophy, and religion and hardly fields that one goes into if one wishes to cash in on the big bucks, for example. It also strikes me that some of the majors listed, such as Political Science, History, Anthropology, and Archeology, are ones in which those who are serious about the field typically go on to obtain an advanced or professional degree of some kind. It’s unclear if the study that this list is based on takes into account such things as the Political Science major who goes on to law school, for example. For the most part, there’s nothing really surprising here. A degree in Drama, for example, isn’t likely to make one more likely to get a theater role than the 18 year-old ingenue who just got off the bus from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for example (which kind of makes one wonder what the real value of a degree in “Drama” actually is) and most of America’s most legendary journalists never went to college.
Despite the seeming logic of the list, though, one art critic, objects to the placement of Fine Arts at the top of the list:
[W]ho’s more important today, Rembrandt or the people who bought his art? Monet or the people who bought his? Van Gogh or the rich idiots who FAILED to buy what he made? Useless is as useless does, I say, and it seems pretty clear to me that, across history, many of the people who made the biggest difference had training in the most useless professions. (Aristotle, anyone?)
Again, which is more useless, adding another million dollars to the millions you already have, or adding a new work of art, or a new thought, to the world’s store of ideas? The single biggest problem the world has today, by far, is that people in the West are used to owning and using too much, and are setting an impossible example for the rest of the planet. (See the new movie Surviving Progress.) So there’s real-world, practical virtue in living modestly, “uselessly”, and taking your pleasure from the thoughts and ideas you acquired in getting your “useless” degree in art or poetry or philosophy. The world will not be a better place when more people have more money and stuff. It can ONLY be better when more people have better thoughts.
I’m proud to say that my first degree, in medieval history, and my second and third, in art history, are as useless as they come. I’d do them all over again.
Well, that’s fine for him I suppose, and it’s great that he was able to parlay those three degrees into gigs writing for The Washington Post, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast, but I’m not at all sure that he followed a career path that would be available to everyone who graduates with those degrees, or with a Fine Arts degree. More importantly, Van Gogh didn’t go to college to learn his art, neither did Monet, or Rembrandt. You either have that kind of talent, or you don’t, and no amount of education is going to turn a guy who can barely draw stick figures into the next great artist of his generation. In fact, I’d say it would be deceptive for anyone to tell a prospective Fine Arts major that anything of the sort was even remotely possible.
Besides, what is so wrong with acknowledging the fact that if you major in something like Fine Arts, you’re likely to find it difficult to make a career out of your field of study? Shouldn’t we be honest with students when they enter college?
I would say the answer to that last question is yes, especially considering the problems that many of them are facing as they graduated college:
The college class of 2012 is in for a rude welcome to the world of work.
A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t fully use their skills and knowledge.
Young adults with bachelor’s degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs — waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example — and that’s confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.
About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.
Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year.
Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less.
In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).
Of course, your prospects are slightly different depending on what degree you ended up with at the end of your four years:
While there’s strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.
Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor’s degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade.
“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.
Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.
Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he got financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. “There is not much out there, it seems,” he said.
His situation highlights a widening but little-discussed labor problem. Perhaps more than ever, the choices that young adults make earlier in life — level of schooling, academic field and training, where to attend college, how to pay for it — are having long-lasting financial impact.
This is an example of what has perhaps been the most pernicious aspect of the Higher Education Bubble. As tuition rates keep rising, university officials keep assuring students and parents that a college degree, any degree, is the key to success in the future. To a large degree they’re right given that there are wide gaps in employment, income, and standard of living between those with at least a Bachelor’s Degree and those without. However, it strikes me that they’ve also been rather dishonest about the whole thing. Did anyone ever ask Mr. Bledose, for example, exactly what he thought he would end up doing with that Creative Writing degree when he entered college four years ago? Granted, that’s a question that he should’ve asked himself because I’m pretty sure barista wasn’t his dream job. Nonetheless, I doubt that anyone at the university he attended ever even tried being honest with him about the job prospects for creative writers (which again strikes me as a talent that one doesn’t necessarily go to school to learn).
There’s a huge freaking problem with the study: It only looks at job prospects in the U.S. There’s an entire developing world hungry for humanities and arts majors who speak fluent english. An American with a history, english or fine arts degree van find work in China or Latin America almost immediately, and you are virtually guaranteed the opportunity to emigrate. My advice to any young person looking for work is to get out of the West and embrace the enormous opportunities overseas.
He’s correct here, but he misses the real point: Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh didn’t have Fine Arts degrees. That’s what makes the degrees so useless: they’re in a field where education doesn’t actually matter. No one has ever said, “Well, this is a great painting, but the artist is a high school drop out, so into the ash bin it goes!”
That’s a very cool thought. Hmmm. Maybe we are to be the new Irish.
On the topic of degrees: Don’t have one, make a nice living writing. I often wish I were better-educated, but if I were educated in writing I’d probably earn less. My natural voice has been profitable. Filtered through some writing program I might write like every other writing program grad.
I consider education to good in itself, without reference to career prospects. But in this era an education can be had for free. What’s on offer at universities is very expensive credentialing, and that does have to be judged in economic terms.
That sums it up rather well, actually
Re. @Ben Wolf, and @Stormy Dragon:
You are both talking about “exceptional” versus “medians,” of course. Exceptional people will succeed even when you try to stop them. Their choice of major isn’t going to be a blocker.
FWIW, I’ll recap my views on majors: If you or someone who know is considering majors, use outcomes in the process. In particular, median mid-career returns for graduates work as a predictor of ROI. Of course, you can consciously choose a major that is not about ROI, and then it is up to you how much you spend, or borrow, for non-economic returns.
Also, related with a computer driven “math emporium”:
MR entitles this The factory farm?
I believe some (local) pundits told us that improved outcomes with lower cost via computer instruction was impossible … they’d seen the YouTube, you see.
I think that the problem is with the headline and the word “useless.” There is a difference between “useless” and “not going to, on average, earn a lot of money” and/or “degrees for which it is difficult to find a job.”
So he brings up Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh. Whether they have art degrees is immaterial, frankly. They’re outliers.
Who did more for humanity, those three, or Jonas Salk, Henry Ford, and Bill Gates? Also outliers.
And who, on balance, does more for the advancement of humanity — 1000 engineers, or 1000 fine arts majors?
When a writer is reduced to citing Aristotle in defense of useless degrees it’s time to turn the page. What next? Newsweeks best degrees in the Paleozoic era? Oh, thats right, but how about being able to fly, fight or swim really fast?
Anyway. Why does anyone think artsy fartsy and philosophy majors want to tax the rich? Envious bastids.
Let the harpoon hurling begin………
I really don’t want to restart that conversation–but for the sake of accuracy: no one said that here.
@john personna: The humanities are in demand in the developing world. The Chinese and Indians in particular are hungry to learn about Western arts, history and social sciences, and adapt them to improve international business opportunities. In other words, they have plenty of engineers but not enough historians, anthropologists, artists and teachers.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Yea obviously Newsweek was being a little provocative with that designation, and I decided to go along 🙂
Seems to me that the kids need to think not just about their disciplines, but about specific skills and experiences within those disciplines. If you graduate with a piece of paper that says you’re a graduate, then nothing distinguishes you from your fellows. If, however, you took the time to find good internships (read: places where you either compiled a professional portfolio or made connections), then you’ve got a leg up on the competition. Also, nearly any major is going to offer at least a few courses with practical applications. Failure to take those courses, IMO, is educational malpractice.
Another problem is that to succeed in a lot of these fields, you need some kind of native talent. If you’re merely a good actor as opposed to a fantastic actor, and you still majored in dramatic arts … well, you’re never going to see much success.
Finally, I think that if any of these kids entered their majors expecting to pay off their student loans quickly … then they made poor choices. Even when they do find employment in these majors, the pay is not very high compared to Cousin Merv, who majored in accounting.
Define “advancement of humanity”.
I’d add several science degrees into the useless list, actually. Try getting a job with a bachelor’s in physics and you get treated as a fourth-rate imitation of a second-rate engineer.
@Brad Warbiany: “And who, on balance, does more for the advancement of humanity — 1000 engineers, or 1000 fine arts majors?”
I think you could make an argument that fine arts majors who end up waiting tables do more for the advancement of humanity than engineers who create new and better remote drones to kill people.
@MBunge: Ouch. +10
@Steven L. Taylor:
I was really careful not to overstate my side, Steven. The “claim” is important, and mine only was that technology should prove useful to reduce costs in some roles. I thought I got a lot of push back on that, from people who had seen computer instruction, and found it lacking.
We’ve got a lot going on, with things like Coursera, Udacity, MITx, Minerva, and Udemy.
I don’t believe you were supportive. Heh, at least you should admit that.
Have those statistics ever been analyzed by Major? My sister, for instance, has a BA in Art Studio … which does her almost no good whatsoever. Her current employer requires “any college degree” for these types of positions … so it could have been literally anything. Her MBA (in progress) combined with her business experience and talent will do her much more good.
What does she do? She’s a technical/scientific writer for Pharma … (and, yes, she’s quite good at it. Not that I’m biased, of course …).
I think that’s fairly orthogonal to the Newsweek piece, which was presumably pointed at parents of American teens and pre-teens.
Heh, if you’ve got an exceptional child, just send him to China for a year. You don’t really need to get him a liberal arts degree first.
I’m sure that you understand statistical outcomes only have statistical validity. They are nonetheless useful “on average” 😉
No, John, that was not the claim–you make every conversation about higher ed into some sort of argument about transforming the entire system and really don’t have much interest in an actual conversation. In the specific discussion you are referencing you didn’t just make that modest claim about technology. Certainly if that was what you were trying to accomplish, the conversation would have been a tad shorter. Whenever the topic of higher education comes up you have a tendency to a) dismiss anything that anyone who works/has worked in higher ed has to say (because you appear to assume that all we are doing is protecting entrenched interests), and b) you make the conversation into a death struggle between the current model and some ill-defined innovation that will fix the problems of cost via technology.
Whether this is your point of not, I assure you that that is way you come across. And it is just me who thinks so, as you had a similar back-and-forth with Chris Lawrence in the thread in question and have had them with James Joyner in the past.
The thing that really annoyed me about that last interchange is that I started off trying to agree with you but also related (in what I though was a reasonable and conversational way) my own experience teaching in an online setting for over a decade and my reservations about it.
@grumpy realist: I don’t mean to be contrary, but unemployment rates in physics are among the lowest of all fields. This is largely because individuals with a physics degree are generally qualified enough to work outside of their field (in other sciences, such as mathematics or programming).
I learned a lot of things in college that have helped me with my career. Certainly none of them enriched my inner life the way art history did.
Drive and ambition are the necessary components of the degree. My youngest son was a Poli Sci major and parlayed that degree. into a governmental research analyst at a regional public transportation agency. But…first he took an Admin gofer job and worked his way up. Now he attends school nights and weekends for his Masters in Public Policy. He was single minded in wanting to be in government service.
@CautiousProgressive: In the late 90’s there was a shortage of software people so companies turned to different disciplines. The best software engineers had degrees in music not math or physics. Philosophy majors also did very well.
People have been led into this fantasy that college is free ticket to success and it isn’t.
I have a friend who graduated a few years ago with a philosophy degree. He works at Starbucks.
There’s nothing wrong with studying philosophy, I think that’s great, and getting an education in the arts and humanities is a great way to train your mind to learn and to become an interesting, well-rounded person, but it’s not, in and of itself, a plan for success.
My daughter is a grad student at Virginia Tech, so I wear a Tech-themed lanyard from which hangs my company ID badge.
Not long ago I went into a local pizza joint for lunch. The young fellow operating the cash register saw my lanyard and asked, “Are you a Hokie?” (the nickname for VT students/alumni). I said, “No, my daughter’s a student there.” He said, “Well, I graduated from there last fall.”
I just stood there, dumbstruck, no idea what to say to this poor kid. I have no idea what his major was, but the fact he’d completed his degree at a pretty good state university and was working at a pizza parlor six months later was a bit shocking, to say the least.
Data like this is important, particularly for any student contemplating taking on a lot of debt to get their degree. It’s not all there is to it, but it’s gotta play a role in the decision-making process.
I’m glad that my “12th most-useless degree” hasn’t harmed me. But it would be foolish not to recognize the overall numbers.
I think one might want to consider, however, how many of these “useless” majors would really have made good engineers or what have you. If you took half the fine arts, etc. people and had them all do STEM stuff, what would the unemployment numbers for those degrees look like? The salaries?
I’m in favor of the general push for more STEM grads, don’t get me wrong. To the extent that you have a bunch of students who are roughly equally capable of becoming engineers (or math majors, or some other high-paying degree) or getting History degrees, sure, you’d want to nudge them toward the high-paying ones. That’s pretty obvious. How many such students are there, I don’t know.
One (unintended?) consequence of this might be that in the future, literature, art history, music, philosophy, architecture, and archaeology might become the purview of those who don’t have to work for a living: trust fund babies. Which is pretty much the way it once was. What goes around, comes around.
If Generation Y were a stock it would be delisted and banished to the pink sheets.
That aside, another problem with that study is the factor of timing. Right now a degree in hospitality management is useless, granted, but obviously that’s because the hospitality sector is in the crapper. Had you graduated in 2000-2005 from UNLV with that particular major, however, not only would it not have been useless it would have been quite useful.
Liberal arts are horses of other colors. The vast majority of liberal arts degrees in 20 years still will be useless. 50 years. 100 years. Forever useless.
Lastly, as a separate but related topic, the Feds need to get out of the student loan business. This is becoming one of the greatest ongoing scandals of our time. That so many kids are being saddled with such crushing debt burdens would be bad enough. That taxpayers directly are subsidizing this whole mess adds injury to insult.
Heh. Correct, in the physical sciences, because at the end of the day, it’s all physics.
Outside the physical sciences, not too far off either, although I have tremendous respect for what would generally be called “creativity” (see, the work of artists and musicians already cited in this thread, or the work of frequent commenter Michael Reynolds for example……hard to teach that).
Physics is a way of thinking, and much more creative than generally given credit.
Heh. And they were also employed in droves by the Wall Street quant shops, for their supposed ability to see “patterns” that mere mortals could not. Derivative models of housing securities behavior and links to everything in the universe and sech.
Of course, with your selective, I’d say delusional, mindset you conveniently avoided noting that.
A lot of people are saying they are a bit shocked people go through college and then come out and don’t have a great job. Some people aren’t surprised.
I think the thing about college is that you can get through it while being a pretty dull person. Really most of the majors require time and interest, but not necessarily a high level of intelligence.
Not to say there aren’t amazing people at our universities, but it’s certainly not a requirement. Seems many people feel if they get a degree they’re set – But you really need to have some passion about what you’re doing in order to excel in it. If you have passion, I think most of the time you’ll be alright. If you don’t, then you probably need to find something else to do or get used to probably not getting what you want.
Software development is largely based on stringing logic together in an infallible way. Philosophy is largely based on that as well. I can definitely see why the 2 would go hand and hand; however I don’t really get the music thing.
Hmmm…. I have a BA in English. It translated that into a career as a group retirement plan administrator (one of those “Bachelors degree in ANYTHING” jobs) that served me quite well until I decided to get an MS in Accounting and become a CPA.
I absolutely had a leg up on the majority of people in my MS program because they were completing a 5-year business degree and I had a background in critical thinking and in oral and written communication that they lacked. It showed on every group project and every presentation, and when I applied for internships with CPA firms and Fortune 500s, I was told repeatedly that an auditor who could think outside the box and write clearly and succinctly was a huge plus. I ended up having to pick from four internship offers.
A “worthless” arts or humanities or social science degree will still get one in the door at any number of “Bachelors degree in ANYTHING” jobs. The more selective call centers (a doorway into a multitude of corporate opportunities) will only hire those with Bachelors degree. A degree in Marketing, HR, client relations, pharmacuetical sales, etc., does not depend on having a BBA. A foreign language degree opens up a world of options. And pretty much any of those degree are also a potential doorway into law school, business school, library school, education, or social work, among others. With some additional coursework, various healthcare fields open up, also.
I would also add that it is unfair to add the caveat that many history, philosophy, and political science majors intend to major in law – and thereby excuse the “uselessness” of those majors – without pointing out that many other people with “useless” majors have intentions beyond what is written on their piece of paper, as well.
The university paradigm suffers mostly from the future, which grows more complex by the hour. Add to it the living generations who were raised in the Age of Paper. School is absolutely necessary for them to thrive in the future. We will all be needing to go back, and often. A computer scientist in 1980 could fairly well have enough knowledge and skill to cover all the salient points of that industry at that time.
Sadly, in 2012, one cannot know it all any longer. Not until we build whatever the devil it was Lt. Barclay built on the holodeck…
Sorry, have to run. Back to school.
“Philosophy” is Greek for “pre-law.”
@Gromitt Gunn: 100% agreed. If there is one skill that needs mastering above all others it’s writing, no matter the subject matter. Thems that can write will do better. Clearly, thems ain’t me.
You know, I’ve been working in software development since the 80’s (mainly in firmware, ie embedded systems, largely control and robotics), and that is the first time I’ve ever heard (or seen that). My experience, and that of anyone I’ve talked about in my field (or digitial communications) was that physicists made by far the best software engineers.
Perhaps that’s because embedded systems development involves a very direct connection with hardware and physical systems – if you’re designing the software for an ABS system or the controllers for the wing flaps of a Boeing 777 its very useful to understand both electronic circuitry and physics – but firmware is the biggest employer of software development (just about any piece of hardware you buy has an embedded system in it).
If you’re talking about financial software, or user interfaces, I can see music being a better background, but it never worked out in the embedded world.
Music has a fundamental basis in mathematics, and many musicians have an innate talent for understanding math and logic. I know a couple of good musician/programmers.
On the other hand, I like to think I’m a pretty good programmer, and I couldn’t music my way out of a wet paper sack.
Sure, but he said the math guys weren’t very good coders… Also, you can speak to this too (being a programmer and all), but my experience is that coding has very little to do with math. There are niches were you get into some crazy math, but day to day it’s more logic than math. A simple understanding of arithmetic is sufficient most of the time.
@hoob: “however I don’t really get the music thing.”
As a programmer, an author, and a composer, I can report that all three share the same trait: a Design Time, and Run Time.
Design time is writing the words, the music, the computer code. It elapses in fits and starts. It’s where you think about what could be, translating it into what can be.
Run-Time is reading the story, playing the music, and running the program. Time takes over. The show must go on. We pray we corrected all the grammar, learned the passages completely, and didn’t make any logic errors. Run-time is never perfect. The artists’ relationship with run-time is key to the art produced.
People who move in these circles tend to be logical thinkers who allow themselves to be moved by what they experience as part of essential creative act. We’re actually all artists, even if what we publish is the most boring non-fiction imaginable (such as my blog post here). The seeds — our genetic uniqueness — are always there. It’s the extent to which we realize it, and then, give ourselves permission to then express it.
A college degree only channels this, and then only for a short time.
As for getting the music thing…. it’s tough to explain if you are not a musician. You need to hear it. The music, that is.
Newsweek is one of the top ten most worthless rags.
@hoob: “A simple understanding of arithmetic is sufficient most of the time.”
For raw coding of non-mathematical systems, yes. But when you get into networked operating systems, programmers need to be aware of what is happening at run-time on whatever platform they happen to be coding. This takes curiosity, tireless effort, and a willingness to play trial and error until the thing works. And then you have to communicate all this to non-technical users, and willingly receive their criticism. It’s an assembly of skills that goes beyond simple math.
Well I suppose I’m not a musician per se… But I’ve played piano for over a decade (although not in the last 5 years or so), played the guitar (poorly), harmonica, and alto sax. So I do know music and its instruments. I still don’t see it – But that’s me… Maybe if I was actually composing and everything else then it would feel similar. I think if I got more into the science of music I could see it better too. Sounds fun actually, might pick that up here in the near future.
Who in the world is down voting the comments about music and coding and that whole discussion? Why would anyone feel the need to down vote these comments haha – wowz0rs
I wonder if there’s also a confusion between coders, and software design. Most people who do software development only spend a few years writing code, after that you’re mainly doing higher level software design. Coding is an entry level job, and typically doesn’t require a lot of understanding of the underlying architecture (physical, logical, and hardware).
I can readily believe musicians would be good at that (in fact, most people who are good at one of music, math and physics can become good at all of them (the key word being good, most musicians are not going to do math on the level of Gauss and most mathematicians are not going to do music at the level of Mozart). The problem becomes, as you go further in a field, with lack of training.
And the deeper you go into either music or software, the more training you need.
When I was a Senior in HS (Class of ’66) the father of one of my friends was a top executive at the Chicago office of what was then called Minneapolis-Honeywell. His advice to me was to get a college degree in anything. “We just want to see that you can do that. We will train you in our system no matter what you major in.”
Then there was the advise I picked up somewhere in college. Get a Degree in Philosophy. You will be unemployed…but you will understand why!
As for College Grads working in food service or the petroleum transfer business (pumping gas in the days before self service), this is common in the college town where I live. Many recently degreed citizens stick around for all kinds of reasons. Employment, Luv, they just like it here. They can also be registerd to vote in the county they live in with the blessing of some OTB Scribes…as if they needed that approval.
@hoob: “I think if I got more into the science of music I could see it better too. Sounds fun actually, might pick that up here in the near future.”
One of the most intriguing uses of the propagation of density waves through some medium in space — sound — is to get grains of dust to collide and stick together, going on to form this lovely round rock upon which we squat. Now, THAT’s science!
“What did you expect? “Welcome, sonny”? “Make yourself at home”? “Marry my daughter”? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple cab drivers. These are people of the basement. The common clay of the new economy. You know…morons.”
Thank you Mel Brooks
I feel like this is sort of trolling. The reality is that even with a fine arts degree, you’re better off than if you didn’t go to college. No matter how much journalists like to pretend to know the lives of the plumber they paid a lot of money to fix something they couldn’t.
And I say that as someone that dropped out of college and makes a good living.
@ernieyeball: “The common clay of the new economy. You know…morons.” Thank you Mel Brooks
One film that absolutely, positively could not be made in 2012: Blazing Saddles. Could not do it, not even for a private screening, nosiree.
I therefore move it be broadcast on a 24/7 loop with director’s comments.
Useless college majors? Sure some majors have more value than others, but when had that not been true?
I’m not sure where the employment world is going, but having a degree today is surely a basic baseline from which employers can eliminate some of the 50 to 150 employment applications they receive for just about any white collar position that they recruit for. Perhaps in 10 years an advanced degree with be that baseline for professional jobs.
I have been on recruitment panels that hired program planners, people to write code, and I can tell you that we’ve taken on people with degrees in mathematics to write code, and some with fine arts, journalism and communications degrees to take on analytical and program positions. If you are intelligent, can speak well and write well, and assimilate knowledge rapidly you’re going to be employable. That will never change.
@James in LA: And here I was all set to defend my sorry ass against the cabbies (drove the Yellow Cab in Sleepytown 3 of the 7 years I was in college) and cellar dwellers (lived in one basement and two of my best watering holes in my drinkin’ days were underground).
Did not know this about Cleavon Little (RIP) till I just read it at IMDb. “He won the lead role of Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles (1974) over Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script intending to play the role himself. Studio execs were apparently nervous over Pryor’s reputation as a racy comedian and thought Cleavon would be a safer choice.”
@Mikey: I don’t find that surprising. I knew a delivery driver that worked for a pizza place in a college town. The guy had a degree in psychology but he made more money delivering pizzas then if he tried to work at someone’s practice. Last I knew he was working on expanding his degree while still delivering.
“Excuse me while I whip this out.”
Sorry for the delay in response… I was in a 3-hr design review working on advancing humanity 😉
I think of it this way. The engineers/scientists are the infrastructure folks. The arts folks are the content producers. You need one before the other. The great painters needed canvas, paint, food, homes to live in, etc. These were prerequisites to being able to focus their time on art. In most cases they couldn’t have produced all those things themselves, but the fact that lowly infrastructure providers made it possible certainly were a pretty important factor.
Shakespeare could have been an excellent playwright had he lived in caveman times, but without a printing press and literacy, the Bard’s reach wouldn’t have extended much beyond his times.
Even today, the very invention of the internet allows content creation and distribution to better recognize artistic genius and ensure more people have access to it. If you’re a great writer, or a great photographer, or a great musician, etc, the world you live in today makes it *more* likely that your works will advance humanity rather than 500 years ago when people had neither the time, wealth, or the luxury to come to you to experience that genius.
Every day, people are working hard to improve technology to make life easier, more convenient, cleaner, more capable of treating/curing disease, etc. They’re trying to make the world better so that the arts people can focus on doing arts rather than trudging through a field trying to subsistence farm well enough to feed their families.
James and Gromitt make the point that I was going to: in many of these “useless” degrees, writing and critical thinking skills are paramount. I have a Poli Sci degree, and far from useless, I’ve had a pretty good career trajectory (and I didn’t go to law school, acquiring that debt). I’ve worked in a number of fields, including government sector work, lobbying, and public affairs/PR. I am still astonished at the number of PR/”business” majors who cannot communicate effectively because they cannot write well (and don’t even seem to know the basics like the difference between its and it’s).
Liberal arts degrees are not useless, but students who choose to major in them need to understand how to translate what they learn there to the workforce. And they need to choose summer work and internships that lead them to jobs where their skills are useful and necessary.
@Stormy Dragon: “That’s what makes the degrees so useless: they’re in a field where education doesn’t actually matter. No one has ever said, “Well, this is a great painting, but the artist is a high school drop out, so into the ash bin it goes!” ”
Well, um, yeah. It’s not the degree that matters in a Fine Arts education. It’s the education. It’s the practice of working with talented artists and learning your craft. Sure Monet didn’t go to art school — so what? That’s like all those geniuses saying that a degree in computer science is worthless because Bill Gates didn’t go to college.
FYI count me among the group that says that philosophy majors are actually often pretty decent when it comes to things like programming. I minored in philosophy (to go along with electrical engineering as a major) and it was funny how a lot of the digital logic classes dovetailed quite nicely with the boolean logic learned in 100-level phillosophy courses. I even had a professor at one point tell me that he often saw engineering students do remarkably well in philosophy, because the logical nature of engineering is so similar to the work of philosophy.
Granted, you can only take what I say with a grain of salt. After all, I minored in philosophy because I thought a liberal arts minor would be a great way to meet girls — it turns out the ratio in philosophy classes is about as bad for that as the ratio in electrical engineering…
Well, if you’re going to quote from the script of “Blazing Saddles” in the context of a discussion of the employment/unemployment crisis, you can’t forget this line: “Gentlemen! We have to protect our phoney-baloney jobs!”
And those advanced and professional degrees are likely just as useless and far more expensive than the original BS/BA.
My BA in history was intended as a stepping stone to a JD. During my second sitting for the LSAT, trying to better my already good first score, I looked out the window, became mesmerized by the falling snow, and realized I did not want the life of a conlaw scholar. As I was putting myself school as a carpenter, I spent the next several years just working, until I realized that I ought to be on the other side of the blueprints. Thus my second undergrad degree is in engineering. The P.E after my name is far more important than any moniker any university could grant.
I have an cartoon on my wall that came out the same year I graduated with the BA-History. In it (Drabble), the father asks what his son is majoring in:
Trivial pursuits indeed! Like commenting on blogs…
@george: It’s also because we end up learning how to visualize in N dimensions. (Have you ever tried to figure out what a SO(3) non-trivial mapping in 5 dimensions would look like? I had to torture myself with that for several evenings. Ugh.)
I think it’s also because after you deal with the mind-warping involved in quantum physics — and the math involved in thermodynamics– everything else looks trivial by comparison.
As a Ph.D. in physics, I don’t know whether I should be proud or appalled at the fact that Moody’s almost hired me to put together CDOs….
Some of the degrees are certainly frivolous. meaningless, “faddish”, and not worth a wooden nickel. But I hate to see studies in philosophy, religion, history, logic, psychology and a few other considered worthless. A local liberal arts college disappointly dropped their philosophy major.
Whatever happened to the idea that learning and education make us into better people? That should be the main goal of college. Getting a job is important, but secondary. I knew a carpenter that had a master’s degree: could recite Shakespeare and Milton. He wanted to work with his hands and did not consider his college education a waste of time and money. I guess it depends on your opinion of education and what it is for.
There is nothing about journalism that requires a bachelors degree. I have a diploma from an accredited journalism school, but I do not have a degree therein. I close friend years ago had a Master in journalism. He gave me his thesis to read. It was a biography of famed WW2 war reporter Ernie Pyle. It was very good, but it had nothing to do with reportage. It was a specialized form of history.
OTOH, I myself have a BA degree in (gasp) philosophy, so I have little room to talk. But I was immediately employed as an Army artillery officer, which was my first career. A philosophy degree actually was very useful when I served in the Pentagon, since studying philosophy trains the mind in B.S. detection.
Glad to know that Steven Taylor and I are useless.
@Racehorse: There will always be a far greater need for those educated in the humanities than other fields. It’s just that within the U.S. the market has become saturated. That’s why I encourage people to move to another market.
It’s nice to see Sarah Palin’s fellow travelers (the usual suspects around here) on this thread spew similar anti-intellectual snobbery like the kind she so often vomits…
@Ben Wolf: In certain fields, advanced degrees are essential – I do not mean to demean that, nor those that have earned them. My little sister has a Masters of Divinity (from Harvard – same time our current President was there) – she could not have become an ordained Minister without it. Both my parents have Masters (also from Harvard) that are merely shingles on the wall. While my father’s PhD presented options, his rank in the Army was far more significant. He was the one that said, after I earned my Professional Engineer license that advanced degrees, in many circumstances, are far less practical.
Perhaps my humor was a bit to oblique, but I have no regrets about my BA in history. As Doug alluded to, it is not the degree one earns, rather the illusions they hold for what that degree will, and will not, provide for.
Rather than focus on the fact that 53.6% of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed, consider that the rate wasn’t all that much lower, at 41%, in 2000 – a year when the economy was far stronger than today, with low overall unemployment. Quite obviously the main issue is not the state of the economy but rather the fact that there are just too many people going to college.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Wow Steven, I gave you a full day off and came back to find that. You better back it up with some links. My memory is that I was supportive of the education hackers but was careful not to make any claim about their near term success.
You made me start my computer. Here is your claim in this thread, Steven:
Sorry, but that’s you, not me. You made claims about “the general efficacy of in-class and distance education” while I steered conversation to a mixed system, as in the Math Emporium up tom.
This was your commentt:
Here is what I actually said:
What I’m saying here, and what I keep repeating, is that I’m open to innovation and a mixed outcome.
@john personna: You can go back and read the thread if you like. You are impossible to discuss the topic with because you discount anything that anyone says that you don’t like as simply self-serving defense of the status quo. You also utterly discount anything anyone says who actually has experience in the field. You go all hobby horse on this topic.
Regardless: all I am saying now is that I never said the following:
To be clear: yes, it is possible that technology may lower costs. That was never what I was trying to say. Although, ironically, to date both my personal experience and my general knowledge of distance education of a systematized nature is actually more expensive than on campus.
Now, yes: when people give things away for free, it is cheaper. The problem becomes building an alternate to universities on that model.
Here was your claim, Steven, much stronger than mine:
You are the one pushing the false dichotomy, and then pretending that I am demanding 100% online instruction.
Find a link.
@Steven L. Taylor:
And lay off the ad hominems, if you can’t find a link where I actually make one of these claims you accuse me of, just shut the f*k up.
Shockingly, I am as well.
I am simply stating how you come across in these discussions.
Indeed, the above comment helps make my point.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Read that thread from the start Steven. Here’s some more BS you put in my mouth:
You do understand that there is an innovator and entrepreneurship revolution out there now, right?
With, as I say above, Coursera, Udacity, MITx, Minerva, and Udemy.
Do you think you were being rational when you told me it was just ” YouTube videos and a link to a very limited set of free online courses?”
@Steven L. Taylor:
Basically, you tried to put off this moment in history as my crazy idea, and then attacked me when I would not agree.
Actually this is a good example: I was trying there to engage in a conversation about education and both its structured and unstructured manifestations. I am not trying to create a dichotomy, but instead was trying to discuss types of learning. Clearly I failed to make my point.
@Steven L. Taylor:
The bottom line is that when you accuse me of X, you should fine a link.
Otherwise, it is an ad hominem
@john personna: Go back and re-read the thread. At that point in the conversation that was, in fact, exactly what you had provided: a link to a YouTube video and the link to udacity in terms of concrete examples.
What is inaccurate about that statement?
I am not opposed to innovation. But simply saying “hey, there is a lot of innovation and potential out there” is not very helpful, ultimately.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Dude, can you see that you are setting a hard wall when you say you are “not going to hire a plumber, doctor, accountant, or schoolteacher who simply was able to self-educate with the help of the internet?”
As you wish.
@Steven L. Taylor:
So, what was I to think you were at that point in the thread, Steven?
Were you an informed educator? Or a complete newbie to online instruction?
If you were the former, I could make passing reference to things with which we were both familiar.
If you were the latter, why would you try to squash the thread with your expertise?
I would like to know that the plumber I hire (let alone the brain surgeon) that I hire knows what he or she is doing and has been adequately trained. Informal education is insufficient in those cases.
Perhaps we are misunderstanding or disagreeing on what self-educated means.
Are you willing to have heart surgery from someone who gained all their knowledge through informal self-training?
@Steven L. Taylor:
Before we dive into plumbers versus heart surgeons (if we really need to!), I think you should look at your paragraph again, from another perspective.
We both know that it is more than YouTube and “a very limited set of free online courses.”
We both know that a great attempt is being made to reinvent at least some part of education.
Can you see your paragraph as a firewall against that? You notice that you didn’t put a “yet” or “so far” in there. Right?
I might be OK with “it is hard today to quantify online achievement,” but the key is that I wasn’t making a claim about who you could hire today, was I?
All I said on this count was that it was my experience that in-class instruction was superior to online while at the same time acknowledging the usefulness of online instruction and also agreeing with you about its usefulness. I was not trying to “squash the thread” on that topic.
And not a newbie: I have been at it for over a decade (and by “it” I mean online teaching).
I guess this is what animates the thread, and my side of the (bilateral) righteous indignation.
I am applauding an effort. I have high hopes. I am not making claims that everything is in place now, or even that everything I dream of will come to fruition.
@Steven L. Taylor:
FWIW, this is what I was remembering:
You might note that this isn’t quite the Virginia Tech experience noted above, and in fact, my dig at your assurance was based on accurate recall.
The meta-level key to this discussion is that you have actually been making stronger claims than I (“teaching them via YouTube/the techo equivalent is simply not the same thing”) but in false symmetry, have been placing me at the mirror of your position, in a place I do not hold.
Last 21 posts (give or take) are the jousting between SLT and jp.
Logging in to this is like going over to the local Buffalo Wild Wings to find the Cage Fightin’ on all the TV’s instead of the Cubs pounding on the Shitbirds…a far more entertaining experience…
I don’t want to wade too deeply into the weeds here, but my experience talking to students about the Empo is that it works for some people and doesn’t work for others; there was an article in the campus paper a few months ago indicating that there’s been an uptick in demand for the “traditional” course.
To the extent it does work I think it is effective because it’s in the framework of a traditional, in-person degree program (most students are only receiving computer-based instruction in one course a term) and the material in question is largely objective, non-creative, and learnable by rote (which means lower-cost instructors can guide students and there are clear right and wrong answers that can easily be scored by a computer). But in terms of the cost issue I’m not sure it helps all that much; you have to have a massive computer lab (viable at Tech because they took over the space of a department store that abandoned the local mall), and you’re just reassigning grad students and adjuncts from teaching a 30-student section 6-9 hours a week to playing tech support drone for about the same number of students 6-9 hours a week.
I have not problem with that.
All I have honestly tried to do is talk about particulars.
On the successes of philosophy:
I really don’t want to add to the arguments above about the “value” of a liberal arts education in terms other than money. As someone who has graduate degrees in numbers 2 & 3 on the lift (film & drama), I would just like to say that I have worked professionally in my fields for 15 years and have been unemployed for a grand total of 4 weeks. I have been able to make a comfortable living in a profession that I love.
Many of my friends from film school are also doing very well. Many others stopped pursuing film and theater and moved on to other things. I don’t think any of us assumed we’d all be millionaires in Hollywood. (Well, maybe one or two thought they were the next Tarantino)
The main point I would like to make here is that a degree guarantees nothing. If you expect a fancy degree to automatically get you somewhere, you’re in for some hard years. I’ve worked at many different places and only one actually cared about my transcripts from college. (Which was a university teaching gig that needed proof of a degree) Everyone else was only concerned about my ability to do the job I was being hired for. The colleges I went to offered excellent training at a time when such an education could be had without incurring crippling debt. (With scholarships, I finished my MA with $8K of loans.) I also made connections, contacts, and life long friends which have all helped out in the long run.
I think the real problem comes when students rack up $100K of debt before they even get their first real job. I could afford to work for $18K a year when I graduated, working at a TV news station with a $100/month loan payment. A Fine Arts student really can’t afford to work part time at a gallery after graduation.
It seems we’re heading to a point where we either redefine what we expect from colleges (Are they trade schools? Should they guarantee a level of income?), how we pay for it (Loan forgiveness? Cuts in costs with ends to tenure?), or accept that higher education is only for the rich who can afford it. I’m not sure which path is the one this country wants to head down.
@MBunge: Pure cherry-picking.
Steve Jobs was more of a philosopher than a technical guru. No mathematician could have conceived or designed the iPhone.
Quoted from a review of the Jobs biography: “As Isaacson rightly puts it, the Jobs-inspired products are bold and simple, in essence “poetry connected to engineering, arts and creativity intersecting with technology”.”
@Steven L. Taylor: After watching a few episodes of MASH, I now feel relatively qualified to perform a tracheostomy with a penknife and straw.
Make that a cricothyrotomy.
Don’t be misled. This isn’t just about me. The phenomena that is Coursera, Udacity, MITx, Minerva, or Udemy is of course led by academics. Those are academics who believe that they can achieve something.
It’s actually pretty bad that you’d miss that.
@Steven L. Taylor:
I probably would not have picked up on particulars, in the same way I did a claim about “the general efficacy of in-class and distance education”
The claim from the program’s backers is pretty clear:
A higher pass rate, costs cut by a third.
I’m sure the program isn’t for everyone. As we noted up top, there are medians and exceptions. But in terms of efficacy of the program itself, medians and overall costs are the right places to look.
Yes, my Master is in Divinity, too, from Vanderbilt, which classifies it as a professional degree (like a J.D.) rather than an academic degree because it is the terminal degree for anyone seeking ordination. In fact, there is no reason to gain an M.Div. except for ordination; the much-less rigorous and less expensive Master in Theological Studies is offered for folks on their way to a Ph.D. I was ordained in the UMC in 2002.
Naturally, my BA in philosophy has proven useful in ministry, too, so it’s funny how things work out.
@MBunge: Of course if those engineers had created drones to penetrate Hitler’s bunker in 1945 they would have been heros!
The implication of these statistics is actually this: that if you are a mediocre art history major who doesn’t want to work very hard but wants a job in exactly the area you are studying, then you are screwed; whereas if you are a mediocre engineering student who just skates by in school but wants a job in exactly the area you are studying, you’ll do fine.
And that’s about all it means.
I have never been unemployed for a day since I got my art history degree in 1982, because before and after that I worked my a** off within the field of art history. Others I know (and students who I teach now) are flexible instead of hardworking — they go into publishing, or law, or work for human rights organizations, or other fields in which it’s useful to be able to look, think, and analyze intelligently.
By the way, for all of you saying “hey, Rembrandt didn’t go to college” — actually he did attend Leiden University (briefly) and, more typically, studied with several important painters in what you might call “vocational training” programs. He himself ran an academy, probably the closest thing to an Art School that the 17th-century had, and trained many important painters of the next generation.
Actually it seemed to have taken someone who was both philosopher and technical guru – there’ve been many philosophers, and before Jobs none of them came up with the iPhone either.
And that’s the key point – people are pushing a false dicotomy. For most things you need skills in both technical and artistic areas to make a difference, or even to have a good career. This is true in every aspect of engineering and science – if it could be done by algorithm (ie without creativity) there would be software doing it. And people have been predicting just that (expert systems, AI, various super-CAD programs) for decades, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.
FWIW, Where the StartUp Jobs Are
The “Gender Studies.” If that’s not a useless major, nothing is.
You get home from a long day at work and turn on the TV. It’s been a long week, so you think to yourself- maybe i’ll take the family to a movie on Saturday. Maybe we’ll even go on a vacation soon! We could visit museums and go to plays and see all sorts of fun attractions.
When you turned the TV on, nothing happened. There are no actors to entertain you.
When you went to the movie theater, nothing was showing. There were no advertisements to tell you that anything was showing, so you went to the theater to find out. Nothing playing. There is no one to film and create movies for you. Well at least your vacation will be fun, right? Not like there will be any plays to see and there won’t be anything in the art museums.
Well at least you have the shack you are living in that you made out of cardboard and sheets.
Not like you could find an architect to build you a house with all the money you’re making as an engineer.
@David: What if they gave a war and nobody came? What if Astrology really is true?? What if the Electoral College is the best way to poll for President???
Sometimes Fantasy World seems much too real doesn’t if David.
I am surprised to see graphic design on the list considering the growing demand for web designers and developers. Students looking for a top career choice might want to consider software engineering. The hours are long, but the profession is rewarding and creative. Author John R. Fox has written a wonderful non-technical book on this field entitled, Digital Work in an Analog World. This is a perfect read for anyone who would like to understand the process of software development. You can find the author’s website here: http://www.analogdevelopment.com/
As much as I agree that people need both science and art, I can’t help but wonder that you don’t mention the possibility that people just entertain themselves as they did for hundreds of thousands of years – by making their own music, art, and telling stories.
Its the same problem as with sport – which is extremely beneficial to participate in, but has diminishing returns as something to consume/watch/be entertained by. The best art, music, and sport is one you do yourself. Getting inspiration from the greats is vital (its how we progress, just as in science), but its far more valuable if done yourself. People in the past would get together with friends (some of us still do) and play music, or tell stories over a beer or two. Many do their own art. They seem to be much more entertained than those who just turn on the tube to be passively entertained.
And actually, any engineer who can’t design a house (something people have been doing without architects for thousands of years) is very poorly trained indeed. Designing a tower is a different matter …
At least I know now that I probably shouldn’t try to get that MFA in screenwriting.
Related: What’s Wrong With Education in the U.S.? at the WSJ
This might be the best answer for David:
Do countries with less arts majors really have less arts?
FWIW, I think one of the wrong ideas above is that colleges are needed to make citizens.
If you can fix K-12 education, you don’t have that problem. College becomes, again, what it should be, an option.
The Educational system has done this to themselves, consdiering that most of these should have never been University Majors to begin with. They are trade – based majors and should be treated as such. It also appauls me that you used the word ‘Useless’ in the title. ‘Risky’ or something to that nature should have been used, considering the research never came to that ‘Useless’ conclusion. Hunger to attract readers to the article, motivated the writer to give it such a disrespectful title. Consequently, my fine arts major has kept a family of five fed, housed and extremely content. Useless? Bollocks!
“More importantly, Van Gogh didn’t go to college to learn his art, neither did Monet, or Rembrandt. You either have that kind of talent, or you don’t, and no amount of education is going to turn a guy who can barely draw stick figures into the next great artist of his generation. In fact, I’d say it would be deceptive for anyone to tell a prospective Fine Arts major that anything of the sort was even remotely possible.”
Anyone who knows anything about art and art history would catch this right away. IT’S COMPLETELY FALSE. The difference between now and then was the way you went about getting training in the arts. Instead of just going to college, you went to a fine arts academy, a school for a particular type of style or “school” of art, or were mentored by an already established Master (usually, a member or instructor at one of the aforementioned academies). People didn’t just blindly start drawing and painting and get discovered.
Van Gogh was a mentored by Mauve at the Hague School, Monet was mentored by several leading artists and attended an art secondary school, and Rembrandt received normal schooling but was taught by historic painters.
All three of these men also had parents with the cash to send them to artistic training as children, instead of nowadays when those interested in the arts really have no professional level training until college, anyway. Not to mention that, back then, the entire continent of Europe was very accepting and encouraging of the fine arts, viewing them as a noble pursuit, instead of today’s view of them being a waste of time.
The strange thing is, I suspect there’s more money spent on the arts, in the large sense of movies, tv, video games, books, music (including rock and pop etc) now then there ever has been. The complaint seems to be that the money is spent on forms that aren’t considered valuable (or high art).
Artists (like engineers and physicists and just about everyone else) have always had to get someone to pay them for their work. What’s changed in art is that instead of a few wealthy and powerful benefactors, the money now comes from general consumers. Which is the same situation that everyone is in – I can’t just sit down and do creative math or physics (and there’s a huge amount of creativity involved, it’d be done by computers if there weren’t) and expect to be supported. I have to produce something which seems valuable enough that someone pays me for it. Its always been that way with art as well, all that’s changed is who is paying.
If your complaint is the lack of schooling available, I think you might be surprised – at least at the local university, there are more fine art students than physics, chem and math majors put together (university of about 20,000, with about 20 graduating in each of those every year, and about 100 graduating with a BA in fine arts every year).
In both cases it might depend on the kind of work you want to do. There is a lot of engineering still coming out of garages and basements, and I’m sure art coming out of houses.
My question to Amanda, about college fine arts versus traditional arts academies … is whether the academies were more elite, and not out to graduate a million students a year. That could make a difference in the nature of the thing.
You know, I mentioned medians above, and elizajane denigrated that group a bit, calling them mediocre. The public policy part of this isn’t really about the elite student. Having arts academies with the same slots per million population as 19th century Europe would not be expensive. Expense comes in when large volumes of “mediocres” (not my word) are educated en masse.
OMG, we’ve heard of college loan officers shilling for debt, but never anything this bad:
Colleges Confuse Students With Letters Offering Aid That’s Debt