“As STEM majors soar at UW, interest in humanities shrinks — a potentially costly loss” (Seattle Times) is kind of interesting.
The liberal-arts decline is making the university financially poorer, too.
That’s because it’s cheaper to teach a history class than a computer-science course — but the UW charges the same for both. In effect, the humanities courses have always subsidized engineering, natural sciences and computer-science classes, said Sarah Hall, vice provost of UW planning and budgeting.
Nationally, it costs an $410 per credit hour to teach electrical engineering, one of the most expensive majors. Sociology, one of the cheapest-to-teach subjects, costs less than half of that — about $176 per credit hour.
Should people go to college in order to be happy or in order to earn enough money to pay back student loans and compensate for four years out of the workforce? Humanities professors have the answer!
Humanities professors disagree. They say it’s a myth that humanities majors can’t find jobs, and it’s disappointing that so many people are discouraged from pursuing their passions.
“What’s sad for the younger generation is that so many students here have been literally pushed away from the social sciences and humanities to STEM, and are not happy,” said UW history professor James Gregory.
“There’s so much messaging in general about STEM, STEM, STEM,” he said.
The innumeracy displayed by journalists and editors is interesting. The Seattle Times:
The stereotype that English majors wind up as highly educated baristas isn’t borne out by research, Stacey said. A recent study showed that many English majors are more likely to become teachers, lawyers, CEOs and legislators.
So they’re saying that if “many” out of thousands get good jobs then English is plainly a good vocational choice. The link-to article is even more interesting:
According to the Census Bureau, graduates with an English degree have about a 4.9 percent chance of working in one of these food service occupations for some time between the ages of 22 and 26. By comparison, the average among all degree holders in this age group is about 3.5 percent. So English majors are only about 1.4 percentage points more likely to work in food service than the average for all degree holders.
Wouldn’t it be a 40 percent increase to go from 3.5 to 4.9, not a 1.4 percent increase? And that’s across all degree holders, not measured against STEM graduates. Considering how many degrees are irrelevant to employers, a 40 percent greater likelihood of becoming a burger-flipper is huge!
- “Two big questions for economists today”: Justine Hastings, of Brown University, presented “Earnings, Incentives and Student Loan Design: The Case of Chile.” It seems that Chile did what the U.S. did, i.e., offered a lot of student loans for higher education. Their program was more intelligently designed, however, in that they didn’t allow universities to raise tuition in response to this new source of funds. Schools ended up with more students, but not more money per student as has been prevalent in the U.S. Nonetheless, the default rate has been high, especially for graduates of non-selective schools and especially for those who majored in humanities and arts. Unlike Americans, Chileans don’t like to keep flushing cash down the toilet, so now they are experimenting with adjusting the maximum loan amount according to the expected return to getting a particular degree (in Chile you don’t apply to “University of Santiago” you apply for a specific major). It turns out that when students see that the government won’t lend them the maximum for a particular degree program they get the message and try to switch into a degree that will result in higher post-graduate earnings. This is especially true for “low SES” students. SES? Due to the rejection of Marx, mainstream economists apparently can’t talk about class so they refer to “Socioeconomic status“. Hastings has a separate paper “The Labor Market Returns to Colleges and Majors: Evidence from Chile” with the discouraging result that attending a lower quality college and majoring in poetry will not set the country’s employers on fire and, in fact, many people would have higher lifetime earnings if they refrained from attending college.
- “The Hard Part of Computer Science? Getting Into Class” (NYT, Jan 24, 2019)