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Both from the proprietors at Marginal Revolution:

1. Here is Alex Tabarrok:

“What astounds me is not that someone could amass $35,000 in student loans pursuing a dream of puppetry, everyone has their dreams and I do not fault Joe for his. What astounds me is that Richard Kim, the executive editor of The Nation and the author of this article, thinks that the failure of a puppeteer to find a job he loves is a good way to illustrate the “national nightmare” of the job market. Even in a wealthy society it’s a privilege to have the kind of job that Kim thinks are the entitlement of the middle class. And, as Tyler says, we are not as wealthy as we thought we were.” Do go and check out the information at the bottom of the post.

2. Here is Tyler Cowen:

She has heavy student debt and does not know how to pay it back; in the meantime she has become an activist against Bank of America’s proposed debit card fee.  She doesn’t have a full-time steady job and her story is here.

She majored in art and architectural history and spent her summers interning at art museums.  Here is more:

She and her boyfriend — a law firm paralegal working against the proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger — spend their days living frugally. They have no television or car. They rarely eat out. They just bought a tub of 48 random beers for $15 at a grocery store.

She has sent job applications to Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress and SEIU but has heard nothing. She is fretting that a grace period for her student loans ends in December.

I should stress that I am sympathetic with some of her choices (not the tub of beer), and you can read this as reflecting some strengths of American higher education.  Still, not all liberal arts students have her organizational and media talents, and this kind of story goes a long way toward explaining the current job market malaise for the young.  Even she is having a hard time finding remunerative work and getting on a career track.  Furthermore, she doesn’t seem to be striving for that.

I want to write a post about college major choices, but there is a serious internal debate I am having and it is by no means settled. if everyone majored in “the right majors” I am not convinced the world would be very different today. Evidence perhaps to be provided at a later date. Note that I consider myself fortunate, not of particularly good foresight.

7 Responses to “OWS Observations of the Day – Or Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    >> “What astounds me is not that someone could amass $35,000 in student loans pursuing a dream of puppetry,”


  2. Dan says:

    Major-choice thoughts have ebbed, but not yet to a comfortable level; I think of it often when I meet people, and it sometimes still preoccupies me. Please let us know your thoughts.

  3. RIT-Rich says:

    Its not so much everyone graduating in the “right” majors. The right majors would be defined by the market returns for each major. After all, an example why everyone graduating in the “right” majors would be…the communist countries…where everyone’s majors were “chosen” for them by the government based on “need”. The result; loads of engineers and doctors…which couldn’t design a car or cure a cold.

    Its more or less, in my opinion, about the government making the cost of education too cheap, thus allowing even people who want to major in puppetry, be able to do so. Making bad investment decisions…seem like good decisions.

    There was a day when artists and such went to do apprenticeships with practitioners of the art. Or they went to art institutes after proving themselves at an early age in art-focused middle schools or high schools. They had talent, they worked hard, and they were good at what they did. Today…any 18 year old can enroll in any art degree they want and pretend like they are artists. The market becomes saturated with such people, and then they can’t find jobs!

    Its telling that when I look at RIT’s website which lists starting salaries for students in all the fields they offer (as reported by students)…art majors salaries are blank. Yet these students, and their parents (who pay for their tuition), think that 35k a year in tuition for a major that doesn’t even list a starting salary!…is a good idea. (I don’t think you have art majors at U of R, so you may be spared the comedy that is the RIT school of art)

  4. RIT-Rich says:

    I personally am not too concerned about major choices when it comes to how many engineers or doctors or scientists or economists etc we are graduating. I don’t buy the arguments some people make when they compare us with China or India or whomever. We have quality, because the numbers of engineers etc we get is determined by the market (plus many of the top students in China or India or elsewhere, end up in the US to pursue advanced degrees). I think that part of the education market is working very well. I’m not too concerned about the art majors, either. A lot of them go in fully expecting to get no jobs, and many of them are riding their parent’s money anyway (not to generalize, but that has been my experience with the many many art students we had at RIT).

    My concern is with the liberal arts and particularly the “education” majors. Far too many “education” majors, feeding a monstrous public education system which gets more and more bloated with highly incompetent recent education grads, which then lobby for more spending on education and more spending on “education majors” (same story for political science majors, environmental science majors, policy majors etc etc). They all end up working on taxpayer money, lobbying for more taxpayer money to create more of them.

  5. It baffles me that people will major in subjects such as English or theater, and then when asked what they will do after graduation, CHEERFULLY respond “I have no idea”, and then go on their way.

    I want to hear your thoughts on majors Mike, I have a lot more to say about it. Also, the Cornell median grade report 2009 comes to mind.

  6. chuck martel says:

    A liberal arts education was never meant to qualify one for any particular job role. Rather, it was to produce an educated individual with a more comprehensive grasp and understanding of his own and other cultures. An hundred years ago a liberal arts grad could easily find employment in many fields because they were able to express rational thought in writing and comprehend the written word of others. Degrees were not awarded for specialized pseudo-fields like puppetry.

    Two things have changed the post-secondary educational spectrum. First, the explosion of government in the late sixties gave birth to many programs designed primarily for employment in the public sphere, psychology, sociology, criminology, even a large part of education and the legal field. This is a self-reinforcing system, university departments, grads and relevant government agencies are all very much interested in the expansion of public employment and lobby for it in both obvious and subtle ways.

    Second, educational institutions establish some programs, not because there is a demand in the marketplace for individuals with those majors, but because there are students that wish to study in that field. One small Midwest private liberal arts college has recently established a film production program. Does that really make any sense? I spoke recently with a college hockey coach from a small public school in New England. I asked him how a little college could actually afford a hockey program. He replied that that wasn’t the issue. As a D-III school, with no athletic scholarships, the hockey program was an inducement for 30 students to enroll that would have gone somewhere else in its absence.

  7. Rod says:

    Certainly grade inflation combined with the easy availability of student loans have changed things since I went to college in the olden days.

    In the olden days (even when George Bush and John Kerry were at Yale), the first indicator of success was class rank, at least insofar as it was one of the major determinants in getting into grad school. I went to a small men’s college where there were no easy majors at all, not even the non-sciences. Also, it was very competitive there, and everyone keenly appreciated the importance of making the Dean’s List and ranking in the top fifth or quarter of one’s class. Let’s say you wanted to be a lawyer (50 percent of my class went to law school). Step one was to show you were smart enough to make the Dean’s List and rank in the top fifth; the next step was to score well on the LSATs, which tested general knowledge and intelligence: it was the SAT’s for people with good liberal (small L) educations.

    All that made things hard for some of the science majors. The valedictorian of our class was an economics major, and he met his basic requirement in science with Physics 101-102, a physics course that was not built on mathematics. The chemistry majors had to meet the challenge of Physical Chemistry, a course so hard that it usually took five hours a night for two of my friends to earn a B in it. Only the strong survived being a chemistry major, and their class ranks suffered when they neglected courses outside their major.

    Now, if one was not up to my college’s chemistry program, maybe it would have been smarter to go to an easy college and get A’s and become valedictorian. And if the chem program at the easier college did not have as much horsepower for grad school, maybe a PhD from Noname U could get you a pretty good job with an evil chemical company, while the PhD from MIT would earn, say, a position on the faculty at Harvard, assuming the PhD from MIT was a gay Mexicano woman.

    But why dwell on the past? Take Professor Wintercow’s courses, study hard, earn an A and the world will be your oyster. Even if agricultural pollution kills all the oysters in the Chesapeake.

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