U.S.民代表大会学生专门的学业选用有啥变化。HIGH school seniors aiming for majors in literature, social science, history or other liberal arts disciplines will find themselves squeezed for opportunity when they take the college entrance exam next month.Many local universities have been reducing the enrollment of humanities students. The proportion of liberal arts slots available at Shanghai’s top 23 universities this year has dropped 2.5 percentage points from 2013, according to data Shanghai Daily compiled from the Shanghai College Enrollment Catalog released by the Shanghai Educational Examinations Authority.“By reducing intake, universities are determining students’ futures,” said Ye Hong, deputy director of admissions and graduate employment services at Shanghai University. “It would be a big waste of talent and educational resources if graduates cannot find jobs.”The shift in educational focus to science, technology and engineering from the humanities has been caused both by government development policies and by a job market hungry for specialized technical skills.As of March, only about 10 percent of Shanghai college seniors majoring in literature and law had found jobs, decided to study abroad or were admitted to graduate programs. The rate for seniors in all majors was 20 percent.Alarmed over the poor employment prospects for non-science graduates, the Shanghai Education Commission has asked local universities and colleges to reduce the intake of students in some majors. The hit list included marketing, sociology and social work.High school students who want good jobs when they graduate from university are certainly poring over enrollment catalogs to determine where their best shots lie. The catalogs list enrollment quotas for different majors.Shanghai University’s catalog said it plans to recruit 212 humanities students via the college entrance exam this year, accounting for only 15.3 percent of the total enrollment. That’s down 6 percentage points from last year.Shanghai University of Finance and Economics also reduced the number of humanities students it will accept this year to 79 from 102 last year, while it increased enrollment of science students from 307 to 316.The trend worries high school seniors like Huang Wenhui, a student at Shanghai No. 8 High School, who will sit the college entrance exam early in June.She chose history over science in her high school elective courses, and now is wondering if she made a bad choice.“It’s too late to switch to another subject,” said Huang, 17, who admitted she struggled with math.“Science is more about logic and calculation, while humanities rely on memory and critical thinking, which I think is more suitable for girls. I’ve also heard that humanities courses are much easier than science.”Competition getting fiercerThe thought of getting a college degree without much effort resulted in a large increase in numbers of high school students choosing humanities in the past.From 2010 to 2013, humanities students as a proportion of entrance exam test-takers rose to 46.6 percent from 32.8 percent. In the same period, enrollment of humanities students accounted for about 20 percent to 30 percent of total recruitment at all Shanghai universities.What the figures show is that competition for college places in non-science disciplines is getting fiercer.In the past three years, humanities students required higher scores than their science peers to gain admission to top Shanghai universities. Last year for example, the threshold for admission to humanities students was an exam score of 448, while for science students it was 405. That was a record gap.“If I could do it all over again, I would consider choosing physics over history,” said Fu Yixue, a student at Jianping High School, who is worrying that she may have trouble getting into the university of her choice.The focus on science education is even affecting popular courses such as business administration and economics. Some universities now want students in those fields to show stronger science and math scores on their entrance exams.Shanghai University for example has closed its economics and business management majors to any high school student who chose a humanities stream of learning over science.“We found humanities students with high exam scores often lagging science students with just average scores in terms of math proficiency,” said Ye. “We think humanities students are not suitable for economics and management majors that require math skills.”The college entrance exam structure greatly influences what subjects students choose to study in high school.Less onerousThe math portion of the exam given to humanities students is less onerous than the one given to science students. That encourages some students who aren’t interested in math to shy away from the subject in high school.From the start of their second year in high school, students are required to choose one of three science courses or one of three non-science courses as electives. In the next two years leading up to the college entrance exam, the students generally stay in the tracks they have chosen.Some college admission officers think the division between science and non-science students in high schools should be abolished. Education should be more interdisciplinary, said Ye.“Students will be better educated if they are allowed more flexible choices and not pigeon-holed,” she said.The Ministry of Education is drafting a new college entrance exam and admissions system that may lead to the abolishment of the divisions, according to education insiders.But for many parents, the focus of education should be jobs, jobs, jobs.“Parents should respect their children’s choices,” said Qin Jue, whose daughter is at high school. “And the education system should meet the needs of society and the marketplace.”
U.S.民代表大会学生专门的学业选用有啥变化。Ten years have passed since the 2008 financial crisis, and the effects linger. For one thing, the crisis produced a significant shift in American higher education. Scared by a seemingly treacherous labor market, since the downturn college students have turned away from the humanities and towards job-oriented degrees.
Too many degrees are a waste of money. The return on higher education would be much better if college were cheaper
Write a paragraph about your career path. What is your work experience and education? What are your plans for the future? Has the economy affected your career? Remember to use adverbs of sequence to order your career events.
If there is one thing most Americans have been able to agree on over the years, it is that getting an education, particularly a college education, is a key to human betterment and prosperity. The consensus dates back at least to 1636, when the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony established Harvard College as America’s first institution of higher learning. It extended through the establishment of “land-grant colleges” during and after the Civil War, the passage of the G.I. Bill during the Second World War, the expansion of federal funding for higher education during the Great Society era, and President Obama’s efforts to make college more affordable. Already, the cost of higher education has become a big issue in the 2016 Presidential campaign. Three Democratic candidates—Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders—have offered plans to reform the student-loan program and make college more accessible.
Promoters of higher education have long emphasized its role in meeting civic needs. The Puritans who established Harvard were concerned about a shortage of clergy; during the Progressive Era, John Dewey insisted that a proper education would make people better citizens, with enlarged moral imaginations. Recently, as wage stagnation and rising inequality have emerged as serious problems, the economic arguments for higher education have come to the fore. “Earning a post-secondary degree or credential is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few,” the White House Web site states. “Rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy.” Commentators and academic economists have claimed that college doesn’t merely help individuals get higher-paying jobs; it raises wages throughout the economy and helps ameliorate rising inequality. In an influential 2008 book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” the Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz argued that technological progress has dramatically increased the demand for skilled workers, and that, in recent decades, the American educational system has failed to meet the challenge by supplying enough graduates who can carry out the tasks that a high-tech economy requires. “Not so long ago, the American economy grew rapidly and wages grew in tandem, with education playing a large, positive role in both,” they wrote in a subsequent paper. “The challenge now is to revitalize education-based mobility.”
It’s not clear they are making the right decision.
WHEN LaTisha Styles graduated from Kennesaw State University in Georgia in 2006 she had $35,000 of student debt. This obligation would have been easy to discharge if her Spanish degree had helped her land a well-paid job. But there is no shortage of Spanish-speakers in a nation that borders Latin America. So Ms Styles found herself working in a clothes shop and a fast-food restaurant for no more than $11 an hour.
A detailed description of your education and work experience in China and US. Review the difference in usage of 'me/myself' I didn't understand what you meant when you said: "..political science holds far more the commonly recognized values in our world"?
The “message from the media, from the business community, and even from many parts of the government has been that a college degree is more important than ever in order to have a good career,” Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at Wharton, notes in his informative and refreshingly skeptical new book, “Will College Pay Off?” (PublicAffairs). “As a result, families feel even more pressure to send their kids to college. This is at a time when more families find those costs to be a serious burden.” During recent decades, tuition and other charges have risen sharply—many colleges charge more than fifty thousand dollars a year in tuition and fees. Even if you factor in the expansion of financial aid, Cappelli reports, “students in the United States pay about four times more than their peers in countries elsewhere.”
Frustrated, she took the gutsy decision to go back to the same college
and study something more pragmatic. She majored in finance, and now has
a good job at an investment consulting firm. Her debt has swollen to
$65,000, but she will have little trouble paying it off.
As Ms Styles’s story shows, there is no simple answer to the question “Is college worth it?” Some degrees pay for themselves; others don’t. American schoolkids pondering whether to take on huge student loans are constantly told that college is the gateway to the middle class. The truth is more nuanced, as Barack Obama hinted when he said in January that “folks can make a lot more” by learning a trade “than they might with an art history degree”. An angry art history professor forced him to apologise, but he was right.
My major was political science in college in Beijing. Before my graduation, I had taken part in the student movement and become a leader in it. After that, for some political reason in China, my college degree got compromised, leaving me as a life-long self-made student. Without a diploma, I had to look for a job irrelevant to my higher education background in Shenzhen, a coastal city in southern part of China, where most Chinese then thought as the front for China's opening and reform. Few years later, the first stock maker bubble burst and the economy fell dramatically. Prior to my managing to immigrate to US, many local residents and I had become broke. Finally, I settled down in New York.Subsequently, I enrolled myself into a local college and continue to study political science that holds far more than the commonly recognized values in my motherland. Meanwhile I was falling back onto my favorite social activities--promoting civil rights in China, and became a veteran. At the same time, keeping myself financially capable for my family was always on the top of my agenda. In those years, I witnessed American prosperity, economy turning back and market picking up. I set up my own company and learned to trade stocks on my own. Nevertheless, during the carnival, who could feel the financial crisis was creeping near? Fighting against the crisis in some way, shape or form, I turned myself penniless again.
Despite the increasing costs—and the claims about a shortage of college graduates—the number of people attending and graduating from four-year educational institutions keeps going up. In the 2000-01 academic year, American colleges awarded almost 1.3 million bachelor’s degrees. A decade later, the figure had jumped nearly forty per cent, to more than 1.7 million. About seventy per cent of all high-school graduates now go on to college, and half of all Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four have a college degree. That’s a big change. In 1980, only one in six Americans twenty-five and older were college graduates. Fifty years ago, it was fewer than one in ten. To cater to all the new students, colleges keep expanding and adding courses, many of them vocationally inclined. At Kansas State, undergraduates can major in Bakery Science and Management or Wildlife and Outdoor Enterprise Management. They can minor in Unmanned Aircraft Systems or Pet Food Science. Oklahoma State offers a degree in Fire Protection and Safety Engineering and Technology. At Utica College, you can major in Economic Crime Detection.
The humanities were humming along prior to 2008, according to an analysis by the Northeastern University historian Benjamin Schmidt. Over the previous decade, disciplines like history, philosophy, English literature, and religion were either growing or holding steady as a share of all college majors. But in the decade after the financial crisis, all of these majors took a nosedive.
College graduates aged 25 to 32 who are working full time earn about $17,500 more annually than their peers who have only a high school diploma, according to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank. But not all degrees are equally useful. And given how much they cost—a residential four-year degree can set you back as much as $60,000 a year—many students end up worse off than if they had started working at 18.
In the fast-growing for-profit college sector, which now accounts for more than ten per cent of all students, vocational degrees are the norm. DeVry University—which last year taught more than sixty thousand students, at more than seventy-five campuses—offers majors in everything from multimedia design and development to health-care administration. On its Web site, DeVry boasts, “In 2013, 90% of DeVry University associate and bachelor’s degree grads actively seeking employment had careers in their field within six months of graduation.” That sounds impressive—until you notice that the figure includes those graduates who had jobs in their field before graduation. (Many DeVry students are working adults who attend college part-time to further their careers.) Nor is the phrase “in their field” clearly defined. “Would you be okay rolling the dice on a degree in communications based on information like that?” Cappelli writes. He notes that research by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers found that, in the same year, just 6.5 per cent of graduates with communications degrees were offered jobs in the field. It may be unfair to single out DeVry, which is one of the more reputable for-profit education providers. But the example illustrates Cappelli’s larger point: many of the claims that are made about higher education don’t stand up to scrutiny.
PayScale, a research firm, has gathered data on the graduates of more than 900 universities and colleges, asking them what they studied and how much they now earn. The company then factors in the cost of a degree, after financial aid (discounts for the clever or impecunious that greatly reduce the sticker price at many universities). From this, PayScale estimates the financial returns of many different types of degree (see chart).
“It is certainly true that college has been life changing for most people and a tremendous financial investment for many of them,” Cappelli writes. “It is also true that for some people, it has been financially crippling. . . .The world of college education is different now than it was a generation ago, when many of the people driving policy decisions on education went to college, and the theoretical ideas about why college should pay off do not comport well with the reality.”
The popularity of the history major is an illustrative example. From 1998 to 2007, the share of college students graduating with a degree in history averaged around 2%. By 2017, it had fallen closer to 1%. (All data in this article are based on reports that colleges submit to the US Department of Education.)
Hard subjects pay off
Unsurprisingly, engineering is a good bet wherever you study it. An engineering graduate from the University of California, Berkeley can expect to be nearly $1.1m better off after 20 years than someone who never went to college. Even the least lucrative engineering courses generated a 20-year return of almost $500,000.
No idea has had more influence on education policy than the notion that colleges teach their students specific, marketable skills, which they can use to get a good job. Economists refer to this as the “human capital” theory of education, and for the past twenty or thirty years it has gone largely unchallenged. If you’ve completed a two-year associate’s degree, you’ve got more “human capital” than a high-school graduate. And if you’ve completed a four-year bachelor’s degree you’ve got more “human capital” than someone who attended a community college. Once you enter the labor market, the theory says, you will be rewarded with a better job, brighter career prospects, and higher wages.
Arts and humanities courses are much more varied. All doubtless nourish
the soul, but not all fatten the wallet. An arts degree from a rigorous
school such as Columbia or the University of California, San Diego pays
off handsomely. But an arts graduate from Murray State University in
Kentucky can expect to make $147,000 less over 20 years than a high
school graduate, after paying for his education. Of the 153 arts degrees
in the study, 46 generated a return on investment worse than plonking
the money in 20-year treasury bills. Of those, 18 offered returns worse
Colleges that score badly will no doubt grumble that PayScale’s rankings are based on relatively small numbers of graduates from each institution. Some schools are unfairly affected by the local job market—Murray State might look better if Kentucky’s economy were thriving. Universities that set out to serve everyone will struggle to compete with selective institutions. And poor colleges will look worse than rich ones that offer lots of financial aid, since reducing the cost of a degree raises its return.
There’s no doubt that college graduates earn more money, on average, than people who don’t have a degree. And for many years the so-called “college wage premium” grew. In 1970, according to a recent study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, people with a bachelor’s degree earned about sixty thousand dollars a year, on average, and people with a high-school diploma earned about forty-five thousand dollars. Thirty-five years later, in 2005, the average earnings of college graduates had risen to more than seventy thousand dollars, while high-school graduates had seen their earnings fall slightly. (All these figures are inflation-adjusted.) The fact that the college wage premium went up at a time when the supply of graduates was expanding significantly seemed to confirm the Goldin-Katz theory that technological change was creating an ever-increasing demand for workers with a lot of human capital.
Other humanities majors saw a similar fall. “Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities… and related social sciences,” wrote Schmidt in the?The Atlantic. “[T]hey have not stabilized with the economic recovery, and they appear to reflect a new set of student priorities, which are being formed even before they see the inside of a college classroom.”
All these caveats are true. But overall, the PayScale study surely overstates the financial value of a college education. It does not compare graduates’ earnings to what they would have earned, had they skipped college. (That number is unknowable.) It compares their earnings to those of people who did not go to college—many of whom did not go because they were not clever enough to get in. Thus, some of the premium that graduates earn simply reflects the fact that they are, on average, more intelligent than non-graduates.
During the past decade or so, however, a number of things have happened that don’t easily mesh with that theory. If college graduates remain in short supply, their wages should still be rising. But they aren’t. In 2001, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, workers with undergraduate degrees (but not graduate degrees) earned, on average, $30.05 an hour; last year, they earned $29.55 an hour. Other sources show even more dramatic falls. “Between 2001 and 2013, the average wage of workers with a bachelor’s degree declined 10.3 percent, and the average wage of those with an associate’s degree declined 11.1 percent,” the New York Fed reported in its study. Wages have been falling most steeply of all among newly minted college graduates. And jobless rates have been rising. In 2007, 5.5 per cent of college graduates under the age of twenty-five were out of work. Today, the figure is close to nine per cent. If getting a bachelor’s degree is meant to guarantee entry to an arena in which jobs are plentiful and wages rise steadily, the education system has been failing for some time.
What is not in doubt is that the cost of university per student has risen by almost five times the rate of inflation since 1983, and graduate salaries have been flat for much of the past decade. Student debt has grown so large that it stops many young people from buying houses, starting businesses or having children. Those who borrowed for a bachelor’s degree granted in 2012 owe an average of $29,400. The Project on Student Debt, a non-profit, says that 15% of borrowers default within three years of entering repayment. At for-profit colleges the rate is 22%. Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and author of “The Higher Education Bubble”, writes of graduates who “may wind up living in their parents’ basements until they are old enough to collect Social Security.”
And, while college graduates are still doing a lot better than nongraduates, some studies show that the earnings gap has stopped growing. The figures need careful parsing. If you lump college graduates in with people with advanced degrees, the picture looks brighter. But almost all the recent gains have gone to folks with graduate degrees. “The four-year-degree premium has remained flat over the past decade,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland reported. And one of the main reasons it went up in the first place wasn’t that college graduates were enjoying significantly higher wages. It was that the earnings of nongraduates were falling.
What’s replacing the humanities? Mostly, majors with a very clear career path. Of the 20 majors with over 25,000 graduates in 2017, by far the fastest growing was exercise science, followed by nursing, other health and medical degrees, and computer science.
That is an exaggeration: students enrolling this year who service their
debts will see them forgiven after 20 years. But the burden is still
heavy for many. It does not help that nearly a third of those who take
out such loans eventually drop out of college; they must still repay
their debts. A third transfer to different schools. Many four-year
degrees drag on longer, and so cost more. Overall, the six-year
graduation rate for four-year institutions is only 59%.
The lousy national job market does not help, either. A report by McKinsey, a consultancy, found that 42% of recent graduates are in jobs that require less than a four-year college education. Some 41% of graduates from the nation’s top colleges could not find jobs in their chosen field; and half of all graduates said they would choose a different major or school.
Many students and their families extend themselves to pay for a college education out of fear of falling into the low-wage economy. That’s perfectly understandable. But how sound an investment is it? One way to figure this out is to treat a college degree like a stock or a bond and compare the cost of obtaining one with the accumulated returns that it generates over the years. (In this case, the returns come in the form of wages over and above those earned by people who don’t hold degrees.) When the research firm PayScale did this a few years ago, it found that the average inflation-adjusted return on a college education is about seven per cent, which is a bit lower than the historical rate of return on the stock market. Cappelli cites this study along with one from the Hamilton Project, a Washington-based research group that came up with a much higher figure—about fifteen per cent—but by assuming, for example, that all college students graduate in four years. (In fact, the four-year graduation rate for full-time, first-degree students is less than forty per cent, and the six-year graduation rate is less than sixty per cent.)
Chegg, a company that provides online help to students, collaborated the study. Dan Rosensweig, its boss, says that only half of graduates feel prepared for a job in their field, and only 39% of managers feel that students are ready for the workforce. Students often cannot write clearly or organise their time sensibly. Four million jobs are unfilled because jobseekers lack the skills employers need.
These types of studies, and there are lots of them, usually find that the financial benefits of getting a college degree are much larger than the financial costs. But Cappelli points out that for parents and students the average figures may not mean much, because they disguise enormous differences in outcomes from school to school. He cites a survey, carried out by PayScale for Businessweek in 2012, that showed that students who attend M.I.T., Caltech, and Harvey Mudd College enjoy an annual return of more than ten per cent on their “investment.” But the survey also found almost two hundred colleges where students, on average, never fully recouped the costs of their education. “The big news about the payoff from college should be the incredible variation in it across colleges,” Cappelli writes. “Looking at the actual return on the costs of attending college, careful analyses suggest that the payoff from many college programs—as much as one in four—is actually negative. Incredibly, the schools seem to add nothing to the market value of the students.”
In his research, Schmidt considered whether the increase in professionally focused degrees, and the fall of humanities, could be a result of the changing demographics of who attends college, rather than the result of the financial crisis. Increasingly, college attendees are more likely to be women, and a larger share of Americans from poorer families attend college. Perhaps it was these changes that explain the shift in preferred majors? It wasn’t. Schmidt found that the trend appears in nearly every group he looked at, including students at elite universities like Harvard and Princeton, where the humanities have historically flourished.
Grading the graders
For all their flaws, studies like PayScale’s help would-be students (and their parents) make more informed choices. As Americans start to realise how much a bad choice can hurt them, they will demand more transparency. Some colleges are providing it, prodded by the federal government. For example, the University of Texas recently launched a website showing how much its graduates earn and owe after five years.
So what purpose does college really serve for students and employers? Before the human-capital theory became so popular, there was another view of higher education—as, in part, a filter, or screening device, that sorted individuals according to their aptitudes and conveyed this information to businesses and other hiring institutions. By completing a four-year degree, students could signal to potential employers that they had a certain level of cognitive competence and could carry out assigned tasks and work in a group setting. But a college education didn’t necessarily imbue students with specific work skills that employers needed, or make them more productive.
“Opportunity”, said Mr Obama on April 2nd, “means making college more affordable.” In time, transparency and technology will force many colleges to cut costs and raise quality. Online education will accelerate the trend. In 2012, 6.7m students were taking at least one online course. Such courses allow students to listen to fine lecturers without having to pay for luxurious dormitories or armies of college bureaucrats. They will not replace traditional colleges—face-to-face classes are still valuable—but they will force them to adapt. Those that offer poor value for money will have to shape up, or disappear.
Kenneth Arrow, one of the giants of twentieth-century economics, came up with this account, and if you take it seriously you can’t assume that it’s always a good thing to persuade more people to go to college. If almost everybody has a college degree, getting one doesn’t differentiate you from the pack. To get the job you want, you might have to go to a fancy (and expensive) college, or get a higher degree. Education turns into an arms race, which primarily benefits the arms manufacturers—in this case, colleges and universities.
The decision by many students to turn towards a major that gives them clearer professional skills is understandable. A nursing degree is likely to provide a more stable income after graduation, making college loan payments more manageable.
The screening model isn’t very fashionable these days, partly because it seems perverse to suggest that education doesn’t boost productivity. But there’s quite a bit of evidence that seems to support Arrow’s theory. In recent years, more jobs have come to demand a college degree as an entry requirement, even though the demands of the jobs haven’t changed much. Some nursing positions are on the list, along with jobs for executive secretaries, salespeople, and distribution managers. According to one study, just twenty per cent of executive assistants and insurance-claims clerks have college degrees but more than forty-five per cent of the job openings in the field require one. “This suggests that employers may be relying on a B.A. as a broad recruitment filter that may or may not correspond to specific capabilities needed to do the job,” the study concluded.
It is well established that students who go to élite colleges tend to earn more than graduates of less selective institutions. But is this because Harvard and Princeton do a better job of teaching valuable skills than other places, or because employers believe that they get more talented students to begin with? An exercise carried out by Lauren Rivera, of the Kellogg School of Management, at Northwestern, strongly suggests that it’s the latter. Rivera interviewed more than a hundred recruiters from investment banks, law firms, and management consulting firms, and she found that they recruited almost exclusively from the very top-ranked schools, and simply ignored most other applicants. The recruiters didn’t pay much attention to things like grades and majors. “It was not the content of education that elite employers valued but rather its prestige,” Rivera concluded.
But for many students, the turn away from the humanities may not pay off. As Schmidt points out, humanities majors don’t make much less than people who choose to study computer science and finance, and the differences are probably less about the chosen major than that the person who studies finance tends to be more interested in making a lot of money. Also, if the tech bubble bursts, computer science may even be riskier than a humanities degree, which gives graduates a broader set of knowledge.
If higher education serves primarily as a sorting mechanism, that might help explain another disturbing development: the tendency of many college graduates to take jobs that don’t require college degrees. Practically everyone seems to know a well-educated young person who is working in a bar or a mundane clerical job, because he or she can’t find anything better. Doubtless, the Great Recession and its aftermath are partly to blame. But something deeper, and more lasting, also seems to be happening.
In the Goldin-Katz view of things, technological progress generates an ever-increasing need for highly educated, highly skilled workers. But, beginning in about 2000, for reasons that are still not fully understood, the pace of job creation in high-paying, highly skilled fields slowed significantly. To demonstrate this, three Canadian economists, Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, and Benjamin M. Sand, divided the U.S. workforce into a hundred occupations, ranked by their average wages, and looked at how employment has changed in each category. Since 2000, the economists showed, the demand for highly educated workers declined, while job growth in low-paying occupations increased strongly. “High-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers,” they concluded, thus “pushing low-skilled workers even further down the occupational ladder.”
Just as the 2008 financial crisis turned Americans away from the humanities, it is possible that the Trump era will bring them back. Amy Wang wrote in Quartz that the “historic” nature of the Trump presidency has stoked a renewed interest in history classes, leading the discipline to return to the top of declared majors for students at Yale. Although the US economy is stable, since the political climate is so turbulent the humanities may be more needed than ever to make sense of it all.
Increasingly, the competition for jobs is taking place in areas of the labor market where college graduates didn’t previously tend to compete. As Beaudry, Green, and Sand put it, “having a B.A. is less about obtaining access to high paying managerial and technology jobs and more about beating out less educated workers for the Barista or clerical job.” Even many graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the so-called STEM subjects, which receive so much official encouragement—are having a tough time getting the jobs they’d like. Cappelli reports that only about a fifth of recent graduates with STEM degrees got jobs that made use of that training. “The evidence for recent grads suggests clearly that there is no overall shortage of STEM grads,” he writes.
Why is this happening? The short answer is that nobody knows for sure. One theory is that corporate cost-cutting, having thinned the ranks of workers on the factory floor and in routine office jobs, is now targeting supervisors, managers, and other highly educated people. Another theory is that technological progress, after favoring highly educated workers for a long time, is now turning on them. With rapid advances in processing power, data analysis, voice recognition, and other forms of artificial intelligence, computers can perform tasks that were previously carried out by college graduates, such as analyzing trends, translating foreign-language documents, and filing tax returns. In “The Second Machine Age” (Norton), the M.I.T. professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee sketch a future where computers will start replacing doctors, lawyers, and many other highly educated professionals. “As digital labor becomes more pervasive, capable, and powerful,” they write, “companies will be increasingly unwilling to pay people wages that they’ll accept, and that will allow them to maintain the standard of living to which they’ve been accustomed.”
Cappelli stresses the change in corporate hiring patterns. In the old days, Fortune 500 companies such as General Motors, Citigroup, and I.B.M. took on large numbers of college graduates and trained them for a lifetime at the company. But corporations now invest less in education and training, and, instead of promoting someone, or finding someone in the company to fill a specialized role, they tend to hire from outside. Grooming the next generation of leadership is much less of a concern. “What employers want from college graduates now is the same thing they want from applicants who have been out of school for years, and that is job skills and the ability to contribute now,” Cappelli writes. “That change is fundamental, and it is the reason that getting a good job out of college is now such a challenge.”
Obtaining a vocational degree or certificate is one strategy that many students employ to make themselves attractive to employers, and, on the face of it, this seems sensible. If you’d like to be a radiology technician, shouldn’t you get a B.A. in radiology? If you want to run a bakery, why not apply to Kansas State and sign up for that major in Bakery Science? But narrowly focussed degrees are risky. “If you graduate in a year when gambling is up and the casinos like your casino management degree, you probably have hit it big,” Cappelli writes. “If they aren’t hiring when you graduate, you may be even worse off getting a first job with that degree anywhere else precisely because it was so tuned to that group of employers.” During the dot-com era, enrollment in computer-science and information-technology programs rose sharply. After the bursting of the stock-market bubble, many of these graduates couldn’t find work. “Employers who say that we need more engineers or IT grads are not promising to hire them when they graduate in four years,” Cappelli notes. “Pushing kids into a field like health care because someone believes there is a need there now will not guarantee that they all get jobs and, if they do, that those jobs will be as good as workers in that field have now.”
So what’s the solution? Some people believe that online learning will provide a viable low-cost alternative to a live-in college education. Bernie Sanders would get rid of tuition fees at public universities, raising some of the funds with a new tax on financial transactions. Clinton and O’Malley would also expand federal support for state universities, coupling this funding with lower interest rates on student loans and incentives for colleges to hold down costs. Another approach is to direct more students and resources to two-year community colleges and other educational institutions that cost less than four-year colleges. President Obama recently called for all qualified high-school students to be guaranteed a place in community college, and for tuition fees to be eliminated. Such policies would reverse recent history. In a new book, “Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth” (Yale), James Bessen, a technology entrepreneur who also teaches at Boston University School of Law, points out that “the policy trend over the last decade has been to starve community colleges in order to feed four-year colleges, especially private research universities.” Some of the discrepancies are glaring. Richard Vedder, who teaches economics at Ohio University, calculated that in 2010 Princeton, which had an endowment of close to fifteen billion dollars, received state and federal benefits equivalent to roughly fifty thousand dollars per student, whereas the nearby College of New Jersey got benefits of just two thousand dollars per student. There are sound reasons for rewarding excellence and sponsoring institutions that do important scientific research. But is a twenty-five-to-one difference in government support really justified?
Perhaps the strongest argument for caring about higher education is that it can increase social mobility, regardless of whether the human-capital theory or the signalling theory is correct. A recent study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco showed that children who are born into households in the poorest fifth of the income distribution are six times as likely to reach the top fifth if they graduate from college. Providing access to college for more kids from deprived backgrounds helps nurture talents that might otherwise go to waste, and it’s the right thing to do. (Of course, if college attendance were practically universal, having a degree would send a weaker signal to employers.) But increasing the number of graduates seems unlikely to reverse the over-all decline of high-paying jobs, and it won’t resolve the income-inequality problem, either. As the economist Lawrence Summers and two colleagues showed in a recent simulation, even if we magically summoned up college degrees for a tenth of all the working-age American men who don’t have them—by historical standards, a big boost in college-graduation rates—we’d scarcely change the existing concentration of income at the very top of the earnings distribution, where C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers live.
Being more realistic about the role that college degrees play would help families and politicians make better choices. It could also help us appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education, rather than trying to reduce everything to an economic cost-benefit analysis. “To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.” ♦