College as a marketplace investment

Kelli passed along an article in the New York Times titled Choosing a College Major: For Love or for the Money? Some students who have majored in fields that are not in vogue in the business world are regretting their decisions, and many, many students are choosing their majors and courses not on personal interests but on what will be most marketable and lead to financial success.

Parents and students today often consider college more an investment than a time of academic and personal exploration. Some students say they are education consumers seeking the best return on that investment, which is often financed with a student loan.

I find that reality sad. And I see it all around me here at Brandeis. College has become hideously expensive and tremendously competitive. In recent years the college game has become incredibly complex, with students nearly killing themselves in high school and even before creating the proper profile for admittence into high-tier schools. And now, it isn’t enough to get into those schools, now students are being forced or are forcing themselves to continue on playing the game, getting maximum return on their effort so that when they get out into the hard, unfeeling corporate landscape, they will have a firm foothold. And then they will work and work and work until retirement.

“The world is a more unforgiving place than it used to be, and investment costs are too high for four years of drift,” he said. “If a student doesn’t take the right sequence of math courses in high school, they can lose out on the best jobs.”

There is no rest. There is no chance to discover yourself, to learn and grow and explore. And this drive towards immediate success after college is not good for students in the long-term. We live in a society now where we are going to have to pursue multiple careers over our lifetimes. What may be best right now may be useless in five or ten years. Is it worth it?

NYU career services director Trudy Steinfield cautions that colleges should not become factories for pumping people into the marketplace. But everyone is looking at college these days as an expensive investment, saddling students with huge amounts of debt. And you want your investments to pay off, and pay off quickly. And sadly, right now, Art History or Education or Philosophy is not going to do that.

But you’re only in college once.

One reply on “College as a marketplace investment”

  1. I am constantly reminded by the fact that students often see their degrees as a means to attain a specific employment-related goal. The desire for the investment to pay off is not as surprising to me as the regard that some people seem to lack for a career path or trajectory. Various majors teach certain competencies in addition to simply a knowledge base about a subject.

    For example, a BA in Art History gives students certain skills:
    Self-discipline, Creativity, Critical Analysis, Public Speaking, Organizational, Research, and interpersonal skills.

    A BA in Mathematics may produce a student who is critical thinking, a problem solver, and has good organizational and team skills.

    [skills from http://www.uncwil.edu/stuaff/career/Majors/ ]

    Since so many Brandeis grads go onto graduate school for more specialized knowledge in their fields, why not pursue something broad and intriguing at the undergraduate level?

    I don’t regret getting a B.A. in American Studies with a Journalism minor – I do regret not balancing my electives out more. Why didn’t I take a pass/fail finance class, statistics class, or art history class?

    The skills in finance would’ve helped me know more about budgets, statistics about reading data in articles, and art history to give more context to some of what I do…

    So, maybe it’s just up to students to be savvy students, to really be sure to take a wider variety of classes than even distribution requirements make them take, and really explore.

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