Saturday, November 10, 2012

Paying through the Nose for a Worthless History Degree: Saturday Links

One article that really jumped out at me this week was a piece in The Atlantic--"Should Science Majors Pay Less for College Than Art Majors?" Apparently, an education task force in Florida thinks they should. They are putting together a proposal "that would allow the state's public universities to start charging undergraduates different tuition rates depending on their major." What is the deciding factor for which majors will cost less?
Students would get discounts for studying topics thought to be in high demand among Florida employers. Those would likely include science, technology, engineering, and math (aka, the STEM fields), among others.  
But Art History? Gender Studies? Classics? Sorry, but the fates are cruel. Unless a university could show that local companies were clamoring to hire humanities students, those undergrads would have to pay more for their diploma. 
Since education at state colleges is subsidized by tax dollars, the members of this task force argue it is only right to use the money wisely by encouraging students into fields which will help the economy.

Ensuring that taxpayers get the biggest bang for their buck is an admirable goal. So is encouraging students to think ahead about their careers. The question is whether staggering tuition among majors will actually accomplish either. 
To believe that it will, you have to accept two notions: First, you need to take it on faith that the government is capable of divining which majors are going to be the most marketable year after year. Second, you need to believe that there are a large number of talented undergrads who could hack it in these subjects, but are choosing easier majors instead. 
I would say that besides these two problematic notions, there's a third notion you have to accept--the notion that a college education is solely about being efficiently slotted into the workforce. If your nine to five job is the only thing college is for, then yes, let's make students pay through the nose for a worthless history degree. They're not going to do anything with it--other than understand the past and make analogies to the future, know where ideas come from and what they can lead to, appreciate a variety of cultures without the provincialism of someone who can only see the present. But, of course, none of those things are "marketable skills", or at least, so says an education task force in Florida....


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    1. Hmm...interesting. So, I suppose the tuition in Scotland and Wales is funded by taxpayer dollars? I wonder if there is any thought over there that students are being wasteful by getting pointless degrees--in line with the thinking of the members of this task force in Flordia?

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