College Majors and Future Work

Here’s an interesting fact I came across today, from Designing your Life.

“75% of college grads don’t end up working in a career related to their majors.”

True for me: Econ major --> Education for work.

I remember hearing somewhere awhile back that English majors had a higher job placement (not necessarily in their fields) after college than other majors but that appears to no longer be the case.

Astrophysics -> Actuary (but there are no jobs in astrophysics, so most become computer programmers or actuaries or something).

The kneejerk reaction to this is the “the world is changing so we need to know how to learn” response, and I certainly think that is true.

The other side to this is the relevance of education as it connects to job skills. Much of post-secondary schooling and an even larger part of K-12 education revolves around the idea of building well rounded citizens through a liberal arts curriculum that gives everyone a grounding in things like history, social studies, literature, etc.

At the K-12 level in particular, this curriculum doesn’t translate efficiently to workplace skills.

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I am one who believes that primarily, what schools try to do, consciously or unconsciously, is to create a shared cultural experience that produces a similar type of citizen. It is also very difficult to deviate from a dominant culture in most areas of education because we’re mandated to adhere to standards that are separated by grade level and subject area.

I do think that there is value in a general education and that a lot of times, no matter the career, having different experiences and ways of thinking to draw upon is a benefit. I don’t know how much I think we should focus on career prep. There’s room for students to explore but I would hate to put them down a track that might limit their options. I think it’s good for students to know what kinds of skills they may need for various positions, but the focus should be on communication skills, problem solving, research, evaluation of information, etc.

I happen to think that in this broken system, there are worse things in the world than being an English major :wink:
Being able to read all kinds of literature; analyze; write; argue prepare the mind for all kinds of fun things in life.

I agree, and at the same time I think we leave a lot of opportunities on the table to connect the skills you mention to an application in the real world.

I feel like we design a lot of isolated learning experiences involving analyzing, or researching, or problem solving from real world application, when they often can be easily connected.

Sometimes I think it’s as simple as stating the connections, because kids struggle connecting the dots. Our own son has often lamented the “I will never use this” line in doing school work, when I can look at what he’s doing and think of dozens of common situations where those skills could apply to reality.

I find this so frustrating. I use a lot of articles on ethics of genetic manipulation, biomedical engineering, cloning, etc. in my course when I teach Frankenstein and students constantly tell me how much they like being able to write about these topics and science articles and that they have never been able to do that in English classes before. I hate the idea that they’re just writing in isolation and not connecting it to anything that is happening in the world.

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I think another place to gain ground is in the presentation of work. It’s not always possible depending on the assignment, but putting work in front of the public and not just a teacher is another great motivating factor. I no longer think the default assignment type should something that only the instructor will see, especially for project-based work.

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You know my story on that I tell in presentations all the time. I get more and more every year about what making some of their writing public has done for them.

This is a great discussion, guys. I don’t have a ton to add. I really do think a liberal arts education helps make a well-rounded citizen. I also think comprehensive liberal arts education is at least a part of the reason so many people find school so painfully boring. Some of my general ed courses in college absolutely dreadful. Others were amazingly rich. The problem is that systemically, it just doesn’t seem like we’re really good at creating this well rounded educational experience that meets everyone’s needs and interests. Such a small proportion of people actually complete a 4-year degree equivalency. What is it, 25%? Us Dept of Ed says 40% of HS grads can read, write, and do math at the college-ready level. If we’re trying to create well rounded model citizens, well we just aren’t very good at it. Some teachers are good at it. Some programs may do it very well. Many don’t. Is the system redeemable, or should it be burned down? If we switched to a more career prep driven model, would we be just as ineffective at that? Or would it somehow improve outcomes?

This is my fear. Teachers make a big difference, you could give a group of teachers the same curriculum and see wildly different outcomes. There is no script for this. It matters how you deal with each kid. Do a good job and those kids are good with ELA & Math. Many times one bad teacher can undo a lot of progress. There just aren’t enough great ones. I suspect that you could put students through an awful system with great teachers and they’d still end up being thoughtful, engaged learners and citizens. (When I wrote that I was thinking of private schools that the wealthy send their children to. That system looks awful to me, but students get attention and have high expectations and lots of support.)