An undergraduate degree is worth the money and a graduate degree is priceless. Yet, as more of the world becomes educated, the return on investment seems to be a gamble. Gone seems to be the days where any degree would do more than just get your foot in the door; it would bring you better pay. Now majors such as journalism, sociology, and liberal arts studies in general are no more than minimum requirements for getting your foot in the door and have relatively low pay compared to other fields.1 Not only that, but companies expect your major to relate closely to the job you are applying to. A sociologist cannot simply be a journalist and vise versa. While for some fields this makes sense, broad fields that promised a valuable education are now turning into 6 year degree paths in order for students to become fully specialized for an entry level position. Yet, as we strive more to align our college classes with business’s expectations, we forget that the economy changes. Jobs come and go and as automation continues to take a foothold in the economy jobs will shift and change. Your degree may be a great choice today, but what happens when tomorrow your degree isn’t in high demand anymore due to changes in our economy? How can someone go from one field to another without having to start the entire college process over again?
Are Degrees to Broad or Not Broad Enough?
There has been a 25% increase in adults between the ages of 25 to 34 that hold a bachelors degree since 1981; 23% in 1981 and 48% in 2016.2 As more young adults obtain degrees, the expectation in qualifications go up. However, we also see a degradation in the quality of the degree itself. The issue lies in the expectation behind the degree. A few examples of the lowest salaried degrees are:3
- Fine Arts
- Religious Studies
There is a common trait shared among them: All of these majors are broad in terms of the topics they cover. Taking the two fields sociology and education, both of these degrees offer graduate studies that help specialize a student for a specific field within their major. The problem is that these fields ask for the student to take on more debt in order to continue their education. As an example, there are multiple master degrees just in the study of education:4
- Master of Arts (M.A. Ed.)
- Master of Science (M.E. Ed.)
- Master of Education (M. Ed.)
All of these graduate degrees offer different specializations in a single subject. However, the subject themselves are limited. Outside of education, what else can one do that holds this degree? What happens when the demand for teachers goes down? How do we transition a skilled group of workers to a new field of study without adding more debt and increasing unemployment?
Encouraging the Will for Continued Learning
While specialization makes sense it also doesn’t make sense to force every student to specialize in a subject. Good employees in the real world have good problem solving skills and they bring more value to the workforce. It also helps to have skills in how to go out on your own to learn new subjects and tools. The best example lies in the technology field. Computer science is a highly specialized degree, however the topic itself is extremely broad. Most schools usually encourage you to pick a specialization when in your undergrad in order to have a better set of tools available in the real world. But these specializations change dramatically; specializing in web development may be worthless if the future demands mobile platform applications. Luckily, the skills taught in computer science are in depth enough to provide enough theoretical understanding to pick up new skills in the same field.
Not everyone wants to do a degree that is already specialized in nature and the working world is unforgiving. Tomorrow’s Computer scientists could be the future’s business majors. When you lack a comprehensive understanding on how to continue learning and how to think critically, then you may be riding a wave that will eventually crash. Being a COBOL programmer was a plentiful and lucrative job position, yet today you would be hard pressed to find a job with that skill set. Those who survived went out of their way to pick up new tools and learn how to use them in their field. The same goes with any other field. Rather than having a degree in a subject like sociology, having a degree in a subject that allows you to enter the workforce and simply pick up the tools in current need will create better candidates and better job security.
Instead, we push degrees with very specific topics and specializations that can be tacked on to the end of our diploma. Most of these degrees can be irrelevant out of the gate. When you have waiters with a college degree, it is easy to simply think they should have majored in something better. But in a world where there can only be so many willing engineers, doctors, and scientists we also need to ask if we are teaching the wrong concepts. Some things in life don’t need a degree, they just need a methodology to continue learning.