Don’t know much about history…

Posted: December 6, 2022 by chrisharper in Uncategorized

By Christopher Harper

As I pondered retirement from teaching a few years ago, one of the most important reasons I decided to leave academia was because I didn’t think we were serving students well.

As a field of employment, journalism had grown increasingly doubtful as a longterm career, and paying more than $100,000 given the prospects of a dying industry didn’t seem right.

It appears that journalism isn’t alone in this academic fraud.

Two in five American college graduates have significant regrets about what they studied in school. Those who regret their decisions included a wide swath of liberal arts majors, according to the Federal Reserve’s annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking.

Nearly half of humanities and arts majors had buyer’s remorse, according to a survey in 2021. According to the Federal Reserve survey, engineering majors have the fewest regrets: Just 24 percent wish they’d chosen something different.

As a rule, those who studied STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – are much more likely to believe they made the right choice. In contrast, those in social sciences or vocational courses second-guess themselves.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a relationship between loans, gender, race, or school selectivity and those who regret their choices. But Federal Reserve data show that the higher one’s income, the fewer people regret their major back in college.

These regrets have remained relatively steady since 2016, the earliest year for which consistent data exist. The most notable exception, education, went from below-average regrets before the pandemic to above-average regrets in 2021. 

Most vocational and technical students (60 percent) wish they’d gone for more schooling, while fewer than 40 percent of law, life science, and engineering students think the same.

The burgeoning regret among humanities and arts majors may help explain why humanities graduates are a dying breed.

“There’s a pretty significant change underway,” historian Ben Schmidt told The Washington Post. “The numbers have dropped by 50 percent, and there’s no sign that they’re going to rebound.”

By 2021, disciplines such as history, English, and religion graduated fewer than half as many students as they did in the early 2000s, according to Schmidt’s analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to Schmidt, the 2008 recession sparked the beginning of a downward spiral in humanities such as history, art, philosophy, English, and foreign languages.

In the decade since our national pivot to STEM, the number of people graduating with computer science degrees has doubled. Every STEM field notched significant gains. Nursing, exercise science, medicine, environment, engineering, math, and statistics are all up by at least 50 percent. Among the humanities, only two increased: linguistics and cultural, ethnic, and gender studies.

Over their lifetime, a typical history or journalism major can expect to earn about $3.4 million, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data from 2014 to 2018 by economist Douglas Webber, who is now with the Federal Reserve. A typical economics, biological sciences, or chemistry major can expect to make $4.6 million over that same time, adjusted for inflation.

If I were in college today, I would never choose journalism or English literature, my two fields of study. I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to do so either!

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