Half Sigma links to some numbers as to what people are majoring in.

There are some interesting comments that follow, once you get past the “majors I don’t like are useless” mentality. A couple of the comments are from Hit Coffee Commenteers, though before I get to those I thought this one to be particularly interesting:

While it may be true that there aren’t a whole lot of “critical queer studies” majors (for which we can all be grateful), such departments have campus and policy influence far disproportionate to their numbers, having been able to bully higher ed administrations into providing them with similarly outsized shares of resources as well.

I was actually talking to my father-in-law about this when I was in Beyreuth visiting them. We were talking about how some professors, such as those in engineering and business, are able to command larger salaries and often better working conditions because if they’re dissatisfied they have somewhere to go. He responded that was a factor, as was the fact that engineers and businesspeople tend to be better negotiators. He went on to talk about exactly what this commenter is talking about. What liberal arts professors lack in options, they make up for in enthusiasm. He said that nearly every academic committee is dominated by liberal arts types because academia is their world and they throw themselves into it while a lot of science and math profs tend to be anti-social and engineering and business profs tend to view academia as a job rather than a calling. I thought that was a really interesting point.

Abel actually read my mind with this comment:

This only shows the number of people who graduate with degrees–worthless or not. What would be more interesting is to see how many students are enrolled in various degree programs and whether there’s a higher dropout rate between those pursuring “worthless” degrees and those pursuing more “practical” degrees.

You would think that those majoring in subjects that interest them might have better graduation rates. And maybe it’s so. My observational experience, though, suggests the opposite. Those with vocational majors tend to be more goal-oriented while those with more academic majors are more likely to view their more immediate needs as being more important.

I’ve commented in the past that a real turning point in my friend Clint’s academic career was when he changed his major from music education (something with vocational utility) to music composition (something without it). Well, maybe it wasn’t a turning point. But it was indicative of a problem. That college was more about doing what he wanted to do and playing to his talents rather than preparing him for a future job. His academic performance did not improve. He graduated, but did no better than I think he would have if he had stuck with his original major.

In fact, nobody I can think of that changed to a more friendly major significantly improved their academic performance. The opposite was more likely to be the case. I choose people who changed their majors because you’re controlling for a lot of variables that way.

Peter commented:

It’s curious that health-related majors rank third yet get very little blogospheric attention. Not much mainstream media attention, for that matter. I would attribute this to the fact that elite universities generally don’t offer these majors, at least not to a significant extent, and no one cares about non-elite institutions. Also, while I don’t have statistics, my reasoned guess is that health-related majors tend to have a relatively high percentage of students who are past traditional college age, and once again no one cares about them. Everyone wants to hear about a 22-year-old* who just graduated from NYU with a degree in comparative literature. No one gives a hoot about a 40-year-old who just graduated from York College with a degree in occupational therapy.

This is a really good point. We tend to think of college within a certain context, often overlooking the large and growing population of non-traditional students. I would be willing to bet that this accounts for a lot of the business majors. It could undermine Abel’s thoughts and my own as non-traditional students are likely to have lower graduation rates, on the whole. They may be goal-oriented, but they are often balancing other priorities (and are often less school-oriented in general).


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17 Responses to Major Ringhin

  1. web says:

    The oddity for where I am at SoTech is the mind-boggling statistics for education students.

    Education, as a field, gets the lowest average of SAT scores on entrance. It also boasts, by a couple of studies, lower average student IQ. Strangely, it lags by at least 10 points in both (again, depending on which study you reference) to less prestigious degree fields… the surprise is not that the next lowest (social work, a field in which you either go for a master’s immediately after or take the civil service exam and go into a dead-end civil service job filing paperwork) is so low, but that Education is fighting for the bottom.

    On seeing the students coming through the doors, though, maybe it’s not so surprising. We have a few students who are in graduate studies, and a few in their 30’s or 40’s who are going back to change careers and want to become teachers. Those, generally, are relatively smart. On the other hand, we have an absolute glut of females from lower-income, low-education backgrounds who barely passed the minimums for admittance into SoTech at all, and who seem to have gravitated towards Education as a place for “easy classes” with “not a lot of homework.” About 40% of them are married, with hubby footing the bill for college, while the rest seem far more interested in working on their M.R.S. degree rather than the bachelor’s in education.

    Yes, I can probably be accused of over-generalizing. And yes, there are some “gems in the rough”, bachelors-level students who may be quite bright. On the whole, though, the quality (or lack thereof) of our students, as remarked upon not just by myself but by a relatively large number of professors, is definite cause for concern.

  2. trumwill says:

    My original minor was in education, so I took some CoE courses. They were thoroughly depressing and have put me on the “abolish colleges of education” bandwagon (well, not abolish, necessarily, but restrict their influence) and shuffle the students to the areas that they intend to teach with CoE only for minors (so an English major who wants to teach gets an education minor), certifications (a coordination sort of role with the respective colleges of the future secondary teachers), kinesiology, kinesiology/childhealth maybe, and primary education (where teaching methodology matters more than subject-mastery).

    Of course, however depressing the experience and what it means for our education system, I will at least give those students credit for majoring in something that will give them a productive role in society (or at least to fill a seat), which a lot of smarter students don’t do.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    To be fair, you don’t have to be all that bright to be an elementary school teacher.

  4. trumwill says:

    Fair point. Up to about maybe the 3rd or 4th grade, temperament matters more than actual brightness.

  5. SFG says:

    You’re forgetting (or alluding to?) the elephant in the room: class.

    The 22-year-old Comp Lit major at NYU is more likely to be an upper-middle-class relative of a newspaperman. The 40-year-old nursing major at SUNY is more likely to be a lower-middle-class person who the newspaperman would never know personally.

    Newspapers have become Ivified, and it’s a real problem for the health of the media and democracy. 😉

  6. Peter says:

    You’re forgetting (or alluding to?) the elephant in the room: class.
    The 22-year-old Comp Lit major at NYU is more likely to be an upper-middle-class relative of a newspaperman. The 40-year-old nursing major at SUNY is more likely to be a lower-middle-class person who the newspaperman would never know personally.

    That’s quite true. In many cases (especially with York College) there’s something else in addition to class, but because our blog host prefers to avoid discussions of that sort I’ll say no more.

  7. Catilina says:

    My math teacher was absolutely a genius. He loved math and what’s more important, he could teach it like nobody else before or after. We loved his extra hard extra long courses with voluntary evening classes that were always full. Our school was renowned for math nation wide, a rural backwoods high school.

    But:

    It later appeared that our teacher was a criminal and sat a jail sentence for this.
    He only had a BSc and had forged his MSc. By this forgery he got a much higher salary and eventually became the principal, which would have been impossible to him with a BSc only. Only a bad luck later denounced him. Having done his time in prison he continued teaching, sadly elsewhere.

    Nowadays my poor old school boasts to be a “creative and media oriented ‘performance high school'”…

  8. Kevin says:

    It would be interesting to see whether the student’s source of funding had any impact on his major. I would postulate that those going to college on mommy and daddy’s nickel would be more likely to major in fields that were not necessarily designed to prepare them for a post-college career. I paid my own way through college and majored in English because I wanted to teach English to high schoolers, but I’ll wager a lot of liberal arts majors are not paying for their educations but simply going to college because it is what they are supposed to do.

  9. Maria says:

    I had a useless liberal arts degree and started out as a secretary, but that didn’t stop me from having a lucrative–albeit spotty–corporate career.

    If you’re smart, organized and have decent social skills, you’ll move up. I doubt if it’s changed that much.

  10. Maria says:

    The 22-year-old Comp Lit major at NYU is more likely to be an upper-middle-class relative of a newspaperman.

    Yup, lower-middle-class and working class people wanting to move up are often clueless when it comes to the value of networks.

  11. trumwill says:

    Newspapers have become Ivified, and it’s a real problem for the health of the media and democracy.

    Only the papers that matter! 🙂 I worked for Southern Tech University’s paper in a couple capacities. None of the journalism majors did at all. They apparently thought they were too good for actual hands on experience. I know a couple people at the Daily Packer who actually went on to work for the (large) city’s primary and weekly newspapers. I assume that the journalism who were too good for the Packer got newspaper jobs somewhere, but I doubt they started in a city of millions. Maybe I’m wrong.

  12. trumwill says:

    Catalina, one of my favorite teachers in high school was one of those alternatively certified guys. He made a bunchy of money from an IPO at the local chemistry plant (a handful of teachers did, actually) and so decided to do what he wanted to do. I would trade him for three traditional science teachers, easy.

  13. trumwill says:

    It would be interesting to see whether the student’s source of funding had any impact on his major.

    I would expect so. When you look at the pointlessly expensive private schools, they tend to focus on liberal arts. Community colleges, on the other hand, focus more on things that will help people get jobs (or prepare them for a traditional U).

    One complicating factor is that this day and age it seems that everyone takes out loans. So you don’t feel the burden of making your education pay you back down the road. Among those that went to my well-to-do high school, those whose parents sent them to school often insisted that they do something useful. Those that took out loans were free to major in whatever struck their fancy.

  14. Maria says:

    Parents should take an active role in determining their kid’s education major, especially if they are paying the freight. My husband had to take the major his Dad chose for him, and he’s never been unemployed.

  15. Mike Hunt says:

    pointlessly expensive private schools

    From the Dept of Redundancy Dept…

    Catilina: It later appeared that our teacher was a criminal and sat a jail sentence for this.
    He only had a BSc and had forged his MSc.

    You can lie about a lot of things in life, but having a college degree isn’t one of them. George O’Leary didn’t go to jail for it, but lost his job for it. The irony is that O’Leary didn’t need the MA to get the job in the first place.

    Maria: If you’re smart, organized and have decent social skills, you’ll move up. I doubt if it’s changed that much.

    I no longer believe this is the case.

    Maria: My husband had to take the major his Dad chose for him

    If my dad tried to pull that stunt, I would have told dear old dad to suck my dear old dick. I wouldn’t even tell my parents my grades in college.

  16. Maria says:

    If my dad tried to pull that stunt, I would have told dear old dad to suck my dear old dick.

    Well, dear old dad was paying the freight so his position was reasonable. I think it is reasonable for parents to expect a return on their tuition money.

    Now if junior wants to pay his way the whole way, then it’s reasonable for dear old dad to stay the f*ck out of it.

    I certainly have no complaints about the matter; dear old dad’s advice means that I can afford to stay home and pound on the Internet half the morning while my DH slaves to bring home the bacon.

  17. trumwill says:

    I think that demanding a particular major is going a couple steps too far. I would never consider doing that. But prohibiting certain majors or having to approve of whatever they pick? Absolutely.

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