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To Boost Post-College Prospects, Cut Humanities Departments

[Typical] Reader Comment and MindSet: The writer is absolutely correct but doesnât go quite far enough. We need to decimate the entire Big Education beast, doing the majority of teaching online and reserving the research mission for only 100-200 universities.

A liberal arts education is clearly a luxury item, and that's fine for those willing to spend the money. Just donât make the rest of us subsidize all of those professors with so much time on their hands (and soon to have a LOT more idle time).

[Sane] Reader Comment: Iâm having trouble telling if the following is tongue-in-cheek or not?
âThose who still wanted to study zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities could read the books during their Starbucks barista work breaks.â
Iâm biased given my two degrees (English Lit/Journalism), but the skills one gains in the humanities are transferable. My fellow useless-degree-holder classmates from the Penn English dept work in the following fields: teaching, law, libraries, political speech writing, lobbying, consulting, advertising, copywriting, journalism, digital media, graphic design, architecture, buying/ merchandising, government, nonprofit, and many, many more. What Iâm getting at is that a history major isnât just attractive to, say, a museum. His or her solid research and writing skills are applicable elsewhere.

Ohanian Comment: The columnist says that colleges should be responsible for saving students "from making an investment in a college experience that would not pay off." My parents (who had not been to college) asked me if getting a degree in Medieval Literature would qualify me for a job (since I had declared I didn't want to be a teacher). I lied through my teeth and assured them it would. Admittedly, when I got to New York City, I found a job on Madison Avenue only because I was a very good typist. But I have never regretted my choice.

How I ended up as a person who discovered she loved teaching is another story. My college(s) get no credit.

If colleges follow the reasoning in this article and accept their role as job training sites, then they'll go to The Ten Hardest Jobs to Fill in America and open Schools of Plumbing.

by Peter Cohan

Half of freshly minted college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. And theyâre saddled with a portion of the U.S.âs $1 trillion in student loan debt to pay record high tuitions. To fix this problem, the answer is simple enough: cut out the departments offering majors that make students unemployable.

The waste produced by the mis-match between the educational system and the demand for labor is astonishingly high. The Labor Department reports that âabout 1.5 million, or 53.6%, of bachelorâs degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years.â

Young people are far more likely to be employed in jobs that do not require college education than in jobs that do demand it. 100,000 of them work as "waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers" while only 90,000 have jobs as "engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians," according to the Labor Department.

And in the white collar world, there are more jobs at the low-end than the higher end. For example, 163,000 young people worked as receptionists or payroll clerks while only 100,000 were computer professionals.

Not surprisingly, some majors generate higher rates of under-employment than others. Those with majors "in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities" don't stand much of a chance of getting jobs requiring a college degree. However, those with "nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees" were among the most likely to find jobs that required those degrees, according to the Labor Department.

While I would be in favor of conducting more research on this, the solution could be as simple as eliminating the departments that offer majors that employers do not value. Sure, there may be art history majors who do get jobs in their field. Moreover, in some parts of the world, humanities majors have a shot at finding employment in their field. So there, it may make sense for colleges to have departments.

Having said that, for students, lenders, and parents it makes no sense to send a child to college to study humanities if they do not have a chance at getting a job that uses the skills theyâve developed. If colleges cut those humanities departments, their costs would drop because they could stop paying teachers and administrators in those departments and slash the related overhead.

Those students could skip college and go right to their jobs as waiters and receptionists. They would be better off because they would not incur the crushing debt loads that they would never be able to pay back. Or their parents could hold onto the money they would have spent on tuition and save it for their retirement. Moreover, lenders would lower the rate of student loan defaults.

Meanwhile, by retaining only those majors for which employers would pay, the colleges could operate with lower costs and pass those lower costs on to students in the form of reduced tuition payments. Those lower costs to students would mean less borrowing -- thus boosting the odds that the students would be able to generate a positive net worth more quickly.

I can hear the howls of protest now. So letâs consider the arguments from the professors in the departments that my proposal would eliminate. They would argue that the purpose of an education is not to create cogs in the corporate wheel, but to create well-rounded citizens who can contribute to society.

Moreover, they would claim that their departments offer unique perspectives without which society would be poorer. And they would cite a student or two from their department who had gone on to an exemplary career.

No doubt this argument would have significant sway within many corridors. However, I would ask colleges to consider a dictum preached by Harvard University â every tub on its own bottom (ETOB). I donât know if this concept is actually practiced there â but it means to me that every department should be economically self-sustaining.

To that end, I would suggest that every university develop an income statement for each of its academic departments. The income statement would reflect revenue in the form of tuition from enrolled students, government grants and donations from alumni of those departments. That income statement would also include expenses for the people and facilities that deliver the department's programs.

Departments that are profitable and likely to remain so would stick around. Those that are not and would not, get cut.

The beauty of this idea is that it would make students better off by saving them from making an investment in a college experience that would not pay off. And for those who could benefit from college, they would pay less tuition than they do now and thus would end up taking on less debt. Their return on investment in college would rise.

Those who still wanted to study zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities could read the books during their Starbucks barista work breaks. Or, in the ETOB spirit, perhaps all the humanities departments could be spun off from the universities and consolidated regionally to achieve greater efficiencies.

One thing is clear â academiaâs effort to preserve its special exemption from the laws of economics is becoming too burdensome for many students, parents, and lenders to bear.

— Peter Cohan





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