The Uses of Education

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So now college graduates have begun the arduous, perhaps futile, effort to find entry-level professional positions across America. But without jobs they’ve got a lot of time on their hands. Why not consider what they should have majored in if they’d been savvier four years ago? Math probably would have been a good choice, at least in terms of potential cash. According to a piece by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker:

The safest of all degrees to be acquiring this year is in accounting: forty-six per cent of graduates in that discipline have already been offered jobs. Business majors are similarly placed: forty-four per cent will have barely a moment to breathe before undergoing the transformation from student to suit. Particular congratulations are due to aerospace engineers, who top the list [by Payscale.com, of the disciplines that produce the best-earning graduates] with a starting salary of just under sixty thousand dollars—a figure that, if it is not exactly stratospheric, is twenty-five thousand dollars higher than the average starting salary of a graduate in that other science of the heavens, theology.

Most people cannot command such impressive salaries just out of college, however. And so, because no one has a job, everyone begins to consider whether college is worth it. Depends on what you mean by worth, Mead says:

Unaddressed in that calculus is any question of what else an education might be for: to nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.

This doesn’t excuse college from being heinously overpriced, of course, but that seems like a far better way to think about what college is for and what college is supposed to actually provide. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer