“So, What Are You Going To Do With Your Degree in Bisexual Asian Studies?”

english-degree-part-2An article in today’s New York Times“Making College ‘Relevant,'” by Kate Zernike—provides an insightful glimpse at recent attempts by colleges to tailor majors and courses directly for the 21st century job market—even at the expense of notoriously *unpractical* majors, like Philosophy:

Dropping a classics or philosophy major might have been unthinkable a generation ago, when knowledge of the great thinkers was a cornerstone of a solid education. But with budgets tight, such programs have come to seem like a luxury— or maybe an expensive antique — in some quarters.

When Louisiana’s regents voted to eliminate the philosophy major last spring, they agreed with faculty members that the subject is “a traditional core program of a broad-based liberal arts and science institution.” But they noted that, on average, 3.4 students had graduated as philosophy majors in the previous five years; in 2008, there were none. “One cannot help but recognize that philosophy as an essential undergraduate program has lost some credence among students,” the board concluded.

Admittedly, Wesleyan and its peer institutions feel pretty far removed from this trend; our Classical Civilization major isn’t at risk of being replaced by Business Administration any time soon. And appropriately, the article ultimately reads like an Admissions-approved endorsement for that special Wesleyan-brand liberal arts education.

And that’s fine, because it provides compelling and validating evidence that liberal arts majors can and should be wholly consistent with notions of “practicality” and, you know, “actually getting a job”:

The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently asked employers who hire at least 25 percent of their workforce from two- or four-year colleges what they want institutions to teach. The answers did not suggest a narrow focus. Instead, 89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked for better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70 percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”

Except students today, Zernike argues, overly motivated by careerist ambition, aren’t buying it. Why?

“There’s no immediate impact, that’s the problem,” says John J. Neuhauser, the president of St. Michael’s College, a liberal arts school in Vermont. “The humanities tend to educate people much farther out. They’re looking for an impact that lasts over decades, not just when you’re 22.”

When prospective students and their parents visit, he says, they ask about placement rates, internships and alumni involvement in job placement. These are questions, he says, that he never heard 10 years ago.

Full article: Making College ‘Relevant’

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18 thoughts on ““So, What Are You Going To Do With Your Degree in Bisexual Asian Studies?”

  1. anon #2

    It’s not just Wesleyan students who are feeling the sting of the recession, it’s everyone. I graduated in ’08 and nearly all my friends who had jobs lost them. Yes, people HAD jobs! Almost all of them! The challenges our generation has to face takes a lot more critical thinking and new ideas than merely making yourself financially successful at the expense of idealism. In fact, that’s the exact mentality that brought us here. Wesleyan is one of the best schools in the nation for teaching its students the value of critical thinking, and right now that value is being tested. And while assuming more awareness about the world is harder than mindlessly working it for its benefits, I think we can all agree that it’s the right thing to do.

    The world sucks right now. It’s hard to get a job. But I don’t think that learning how to become a bank teller is going to fix that.

    And I must agree, I think Wesleyan does a terrific job at teaching “practical” skills as well. Though of course that depends entirely on the individual, and often the major.

  2. anon #2

    It’s not just Wesleyan students who are feeling the sting of the recession, it’s everyone. I graduated in ’08 and nearly all my friends who had jobs lost them. Yes, people HAD jobs! Almost all of them! The challenges our generation has to face takes a lot more critical thinking and new ideas than merely making yourself financially successful at the expense of idealism. In fact, that’s the exact mentality that brought us here. Wesleyan is one of the best schools in the nation for teaching its students the value of critical thinking, and right now that value is being tested. And while assuming more awareness about the world is harder than mindlessly working it for its benefits, I think we can all agree that it’s the right thing to do.

    The world sucks right now. It’s hard to get a job. But I don’t think that learning how to become a bank teller is going to fix that.

    And I must agree, I think Wesleyan does a terrific job at teaching “practical” skills as well. Though of course that depends entirely on the individual, and often the major.

  3. Mad

    Sometimes I hate this false dichotomy between traditional liberal arts and what is practical and career-oriented. Honestly, I think Wesleyan strikes a great balance.

    I certainly think it’s worthwhile for students to think critically about what kind of things they’re really interested in and what sort of career they’d like to have earlier than their senior year, which most Wes students (myself included) didn’t really do. However, there are plenty of jobs out there that really do involve critical thinking, creativity, your idiosyncratic interests, and can even still be good for the world. I was a math and sociology major interested in education, and now I’m doing quantitative education research. Jess Posner & Kennedy Odede started an organization to build a school and help people in Kibera. Others are working in med school labs studying the flu or Huntington’s disease. Others are doing research or development for a nonprofit they’re interested in. Someone else started a business to write software to help people learn Chinese. Someone else I know is saving up money to start a farm using sustainable permaculture methods in Indiana. But you know what? Almost all the fellow ’09 alums I know are pretty happy with what they’re doing and where they’re going.

    Wesleyan and schools like Wesleyan aren’t about pushing out another “Business administration” major who knows a specific set of skills to be hired for a specific job. I’m not bashing business administration, but it’s a different and more limited kind of career path.

    So yes, it will be harder to find that first entry-level marketing job because you couldn’t graduate with a marketing major that gave you a cookie-cutter set of skills to put on your resume. But I promise you, it will be a lot easier to get promoted and rise to the top because you can relate what you learned in your Soc classes to understanding how to target a specific demographic in a creative way. Or whatever. With a Wesleyan degree, people expect you to be ambitious

    So unless you want to be a professor, yes, maybe liberal arts for the sake of just exploring your soul isn’t what college should be for, and it’s not worth $50k a year. But there’s a balance. There are freaking philosophy think tanks, for god’s sake! Do what you love, and actively seek out a career based on it, because you can. That’s the whole point of a Wesleyan education. Anyway, this supposed binary between the interesting and the practical really annoys me. (but hey, I went to Wes, I’m supposed to hate binaries)

  4. Mad

    Sometimes I hate this false dichotomy between traditional liberal arts and what is practical and career-oriented. Honestly, I think Wesleyan strikes a great balance.

    I certainly think it’s worthwhile for students to think critically about what kind of things they’re really interested in and what sort of career they’d like to have earlier than their senior year, which most Wes students (myself included) didn’t really do. However, there are plenty of jobs out there that really do involve critical thinking, creativity, your idiosyncratic interests, and can even still be good for the world. I was a math and sociology major interested in education, and now I’m doing quantitative education research. Jess Posner & Kennedy Odede started an organization to build a school and help people in Kibera. Others are working in med school labs studying the flu or Huntington’s disease. Others are doing research or development for a nonprofit they’re interested in. Someone else started a business to write software to help people learn Chinese. Someone else I know is saving up money to start a farm using sustainable permaculture methods in Indiana. But you know what? Almost all the fellow ’09 alums I know are pretty happy with what they’re doing and where they’re going.

    Wesleyan and schools like Wesleyan aren’t about pushing out another “Business administration” major who knows a specific set of skills to be hired for a specific job. I’m not bashing business administration, but it’s a different and more limited kind of career path.

    So yes, it will be harder to find that first entry-level marketing job because you couldn’t graduate with a marketing major that gave you a cookie-cutter set of skills to put on your resume. But I promise you, it will be a lot easier to get promoted and rise to the top because you can relate what you learned in your Soc classes to understanding how to target a specific demographic in a creative way. Or whatever. With a Wesleyan degree, people expect you to be ambitious

    So unless you want to be a professor, yes, maybe liberal arts for the sake of just exploring your soul isn’t what college should be for, and it’s not worth $50k a year. But there’s a balance. There are freaking philosophy think tanks, for god’s sake! Do what you love, and actively seek out a career based on it, because you can. That’s the whole point of a Wesleyan education. Anyway, this supposed binary between the interesting and the practical really annoys me. (but hey, I went to Wes, I’m supposed to hate binaries)

  5. whatshername

    Yeah it’s too bad traditional intellectualism is losing favor among college kids…

    College student demographics are changing thanks to greater accessibility and affordability. And I’m gonna go ahead and propose that a lot of the lower-income and minority populations that are finally getting a chance at higher education are more interested in using their degree to ensure a highly desirable financial stability rather than attain social capital that has its greatest value among elite types that made up most of those students from “a generation ago.” Of course that’s not to say that all members of any group exclusively major in either practical or impractical fields, but we need to think about how changing popularity of certain majors is reflective of changing faces in college classrooms. For a lot of students it doesn’t make sense to have great critical thinking skills so you can sit and think about your life and find yourself when what you really need to be doing is making money to support yourself.

    I think there’s a lot of other stuff at play, but whenever the NYTimes or some other Yuppie/WASPy institution laments how things are changing, I tend to find that I disagree that change is a bad thing and that the big “problem” usually is in different kinds of people infiltrating their sacred spaces.

  6. whatshername

    Yeah it’s too bad traditional intellectualism is losing favor among college kids…

    College student demographics are changing thanks to greater accessibility and affordability. And I’m gonna go ahead and propose that a lot of the lower-income and minority populations that are finally getting a chance at higher education are more interested in using their degree to ensure a highly desirable financial stability rather than attain social capital that has its greatest value among elite types that made up most of those students from “a generation ago.” Of course that’s not to say that all members of any group exclusively major in either practical or impractical fields, but we need to think about how changing popularity of certain majors is reflective of changing faces in college classrooms. For a lot of students it doesn’t make sense to have great critical thinking skills so you can sit and think about your life and find yourself when what you really need to be doing is making money to support yourself.

    I think there’s a lot of other stuff at play, but whenever the NYTimes or some other Yuppie/WASPy institution laments how things are changing, I tend to find that I disagree that change is a bad thing and that the big “problem” usually is in different kinds of people infiltrating their sacred spaces.

  7. Beau

    Adam passed up a free education at Iowa State? Even though (as a native Iowan) I prefer the Hawkeyes to the Cyclones, a free bachelor’s degree would be hard to pass up. That said, I’m not sure it would take anyone much further than a Wesleyan degree, except that it’s kind of a novelty around here to be from Iowa (at least in my experience) and maybe a degree from Iowa would help a person stand out in a New England/New York job applicant pool.

  8. Beau

    Adam passed up a free education at Iowa State? Even though (as a native Iowan) I prefer the Hawkeyes to the Cyclones, a free bachelor’s degree would be hard to pass up. That said, I’m not sure it would take anyone much further than a Wesleyan degree, except that it’s kind of a novelty around here to be from Iowa (at least in my experience) and maybe a degree from Iowa would help a person stand out in a New England/New York job applicant pool.

  9. crash

    From an alum-
    “I genuinely feel that your average Iowa State graduate is in a much better position to get most available jobs in major American cities right now. The words “Wesleyan” and “Sociology” and “African American Studies” on my resume are probably doing very little in my search to acquire health insurance and stable income. And while a sociology/AFAM major sounds like someone who would get a job on the Bill Thompson for Mayor campaign (my last “job”), it did not “help me get the job” and the Iowa State grad would have got the job as well. (Team Thompson was taking whoever they could get against Mike “Goliath” Bloomberg. So, what is the capital that comes with my degree right now? Will it help to pay the crippling debt I have from Wesleyan? Finally, no disrespect to Iowa State folks. I just thought of the school because I recall in high school receiving a mailing that based on my standardized scores, I would receive a free education at Iowa State if I chose to matriculate at the institution. Thus no crippling debt. So calling all rich Wes alums in New York City who have tons of jobs of give out at their companies for Sociology/AFAM majors who went to their so called “elite” alma mater…Hire me! -Adam Bermudez, ’07”

  10. crash

    From an alum-
    “I genuinely feel that your average Iowa State graduate is in a much better position to get most available jobs in major American cities right now. The words “Wesleyan” and “Sociology” and “African American Studies” on my resume are probably doing very little in my search to acquire health insurance and stable income. And while a sociology/AFAM major sounds like someone who would get a job on the Bill Thompson for Mayor campaign (my last “job”), it did not “help me get the job” and the Iowa State grad would have got the job as well. (Team Thompson was taking whoever they could get against Mike “Goliath” Bloomberg. So, what is the capital that comes with my degree right now? Will it help to pay the crippling debt I have from Wesleyan? Finally, no disrespect to Iowa State folks. I just thought of the school because I recall in high school receiving a mailing that based on my standardized scores, I would receive a free education at Iowa State if I chose to matriculate at the institution. Thus no crippling debt. So calling all rich Wes alums in New York City who have tons of jobs of give out at their companies for Sociology/AFAM majors who went to their so called “elite” alma mater…Hire me! -Adam Bermudez, ’07”

  11. anon

    I agree with #2. Lib arts colleges aren’t designed to prepare you for the job world. If you want a job with “status”, then go to a professional school.

  12. anon

    I agree with #2. Lib arts colleges aren’t designed to prepare you for the job world. If you want a job with “status”, then go to a professional school.

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