Friday, September 07, 2012

Majoring in Student Loans

Over at TPM, someone posted a comment suggesting that part of the country's problem is when we lend out $200,000 to students who study "sociology or Medieval French Literature at private colleges."  Needless to say, he got pounded, by people who took it as an attack on flakey majors.  And the general theme was that we needed sociologists and French liturgists too.

And yeah, that was a bit of the guy's riff.  And to be honest, I feel that a bit too.  I mean, if someone takes sociology or French Literature and does something with it, fantastic.  But...the majority of people don't, and they're no better off than any other major they could have taken.  And since business majors can also take those classes while still getting a degree they can use, I've always been a bit confused as to why people go that route.

While some people really have a knack for it, I strongly suspect that many of them just did it because they needed a major and didn't know what else to do.  And I say that as someone who went to a few colleges, so let's not pretend that doesn't happen.  I mean, seriously.  There are far more sociology degrees than there are sociologists. and again, anyone can take those classes; including people who just want to audit the class without a grade.

And so I jumped in to defend the guy, pointing out that the $200,000 debt was the bigger focus, with the fruity majors being in there to showcase that such people can't afford that debt.  And then I had a guy try to jump on my ass, completely ignoring the debt issue, and insisting that I wanted to be the one to decide which studies to pursue, as well as insulting business majors; as if all we learn is how to kiss ass.  Missed the point completely.  Here was my reply.

Yes, John. I will make that decision for people. That's what I said. Clearly you were a Reading Comprehension major, as you totally got my point. Sarcasm. 
Seriously though, people can study whatever the hell they want. They can study rat butts for all I care. The point is about the debt, not the study. If someone wants to take a few classes at a community college to study Medieval French Literature, more power to them. Or if Mitt Romney's sons want to pay big bucks to study rat butts for ten years at the Sorbonne, good for them. I'm sure it'll be better than listening to their old man rant about getting his ass whupped for the next ten years.  
But...when people are going into serious debt that gravely affects the rest of their lives, we've got a problem. Particularly when its for something that isn't going to give them a ticket to pay it off. I went into debt to get my accounting degree, and it was the best decision I ever made. Totally paid for itself, particularly as I went to a state school which taught me on the cheap. And now I'm self-employed and have small business owners thank me for helping them with their businesses, as I got a degree that made it so I don't have to kiss anyone's ass. 
And hey, that's not for everyone. We need people of all types. Yet when those people graduate, they're stuck with crushing debt that affects them for the rest of their lives, as well as the lives of their spouses. Not so bad when you're a doctor. Not so good when you got a degree that's mainly useful for teaching and you didn't want to go that route.  
And that's the thing, you don't have to get a four-year degree to study Philosophy. You can take a few classes, or study it on your own. Because those people are still taking many of the same classes I took, and yet they can't pay for their debt. Particularly not if they did it at a private school. And this a real problem.  
Sure, maybe Stephen didn't put things quite the right way, but he does have a point. College debt is a serious issue, and no, I don't think having the rest of us pay for someone to study linguistics is necessarily the way to go. Sure, we need linguists, but what about the people who aren't going to be linguists, but just took the major because they thought it was cool. And yeah, I'm thinking of a specific person I know, and they're not a linguist.
And as a final note, as I don't feel I ended that on my standard conclusive line: I honestly think students would be better served if we were upfront about what they were getting into.

To tell them, hey dude, just so you know, that Poli-Sci degree you're thinking about getting really might be for crap, and that's not just an insult the Business majors say.  And maybe you'll be a great campaign manager someday (or whatever it is people do with Poli-Sci degrees that isn't teaching Poli-Sci) and make a ton of money, or maybe you're about to saddle yourself with a mound of debt that will make your future wife hate you, once it becomes her debt too.  So you need to think long and hard about this: Are you getting into this because you understand what this degree means, or are you doing it because you think politics is cool and didn't want to get a major involving math?

Because again, if people understand all this stuff and they're cool with it, fine.  But I've already heard too many tales of grads who insist they had no idea what they were getting into, and now they're screwed.  And that's just not what college is supposed to be about, and while the ultimate blame goes towards an out-of-control education system; these stories are out there and there's really no excuse to see any more victims.

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