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There is an older Zits comic featuring high-school age Jeremy and his friend Hector having a conversation about their future.

Hector says, “What are you going to do after you graduate?”

Jeremy replies, “Go to college.”

“What are you going to do after college?”

“Make tons of money.”

“Solid strategy,” notes Hector sarcastically.

Jeremy answers, “Yeah, I feel sorry for people who don’t have a plan.”

And this, I believe, sums up much of the mystique of higher education in America today: Plan A (go to college) inexorably leads to Plan B (make tons of money). Sadly, this kind of mindless, slavish belief that “B” will inevitably follow “A” is rapidly becoming false in today’s economy.

There was a lively discussionon my blog last week when a 17-year-old neighbor boy announced his ambition to become a butcher, and his mother received a nasty post on her blog that the young man should go to college so he “won’t be yet another loser walking around armed waiting to go postal when the world, which he is not prepared for, overwhelms him and he realizes that he is a working class cog and will never get ahead or have anything on a butchers wages.”

See the association? “Loser” equals “no college degree.” (Not to mention “working class cog” ready to “go postal.”)

Now contrast this with a recent university grad named Andria who has an “Honors BA in Social Justice and Peace Studies” and is pursuing a master’s degree in Gender Studies. She writes: “I have a honors BA and I’m defending my MA thesis in two weeks. I am also apply [sic] for jobs and I can only find stuff in the service industry. I applied for a Hotel Front Desk Clerk job today. My degrees mean NOTHING. I am at the end of my rope.”

While it’s not specified, I wonder what kind of student loan debt Andria managed to acquire on the path toward her master’s degree in Gender Studies. I can well imagine she’s at the end of her rope. I hope she doesn’t go postal.

These discussions reinforce over and over what my husband and I (both of whom have master’s degrees in the sciences) have concluded: that in today’s economy, many college degrees are hardly worth the paper they’re printed on, and in fact (as Andria so painfully demonstrates) some degrees actually have a negative value.

In light of Andria’s distress that no one appreciates her degrees as much as she does, our neighbor’s decision to become a butcher makes a lot of sense. The world will always need butchers, but I can’t think of a single use for a Gender Studies major. Can you?

There was a recent article on The Blaze entitled, “The Most and Least Lucrative College Majors in a Single Graph.” The cold, heartless data confirmed that engineering majors (petroleum, aerospace, civil, chemical, mechanical, metallurgical, mining, etc.) are in the highest demand, with impressive starting salaries.

The lowest degrees in demand? Performing and theater arts, social work, early childhood education and counseling psychology. Gender Studies isn’t specifically named, but I’m hazarding a guess it does not rank with an aerospace engineer’s in starting salary.

Because our older daughter is 17 and soon to launch into the world, we’ve been paying special attention to the sad fate of recent college graduates who have accrued tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt and are entering the worst economy since the Great Depression. Theirs is NOT an enviable position.

Our older daughter loves children and she loves books. She loves books so much that she thought about majoring in Library Science. But we warned her that most librarians are employed by counties, and we’ve seen what kind of county funding is being portioned out to libraries these days.

This leaves her interest in children. For a while she bandied about studying such things as Child Development or (ominous drum roll, after reading The Blaze article) Early Childhood Education until she learned she could achieve the same result (working with children) with virtually guaranteed employment at a fraction of the cost by attending a nanny school and becoming a live-in nanny.

Oh dear. But that means she’ll become a pathetic “working class cog,” even though she’ll earn a minimum of $31,000 to start (a requirement set by the nanny school – and some experienced nannies make upwards of $180,000 per year), have NO living expenses, and NO student loan debt.

So who has the better start in life? Early Childhood Education majors with $100,000 in debt working at Starbucks, or live-in credentialed nannies whose income is pure profit?

The folly and uselessness of too many college degrees underscores the need to counsel high school students about their future plans. Young people do NOT need to be told that everyone must go to college; instead they should be warned that college may not be worth it unless they have plans to study a subject in demand in the marketplace.

Clearly there is still a need for graduates in the hard sciences. But for those studying the humanities, jobs are hard to find and most simply do not pay enough to reduce the massive albatross of debt anchored around their necks. “While graduates in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as well as health care and accounting tend to do well,” notes this article, “the value of a college degree overall is down sharply.”

Which is why our neighbor’s son’s decision to become a butcher is highly sensible and displays a great deal of intelligent forethought.

But if you do have a burning desire to major in Gender Studies, for goodness’ sake, avoid student loans. Debt is a shackle. It is a collar of slavery. To take on so much student loan debt (which cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy) while still barely out of one’s teens virtually ensures these young people will never be free, especially if they emerge with, let’s face it, a worthless degree.

Parent should love their children enough to guide them toward a sensible future and sensible financial obligations. Unlike the snarker who said butchers are nothing more than “working class cogs,” learning a trade can be lucrative, profitable, in-demand and, well, sensible.

Our family uses the services of a butcher on a regular basis. Likely you do as well, whenever you visit the meat department in any grocery store. But Gender Studies majors? Who knows where they’ll end up.

 

 

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