I’m not an unhappy robot
Georgetown University recently released a report on the average pay and average unemployment of various college majors. This article recently complained about these surveys focusing too much on pay of college majors. Since this is something I talk about a lot (articles touting fantastic engineering pay or that invent a shortage of engineers that isn’t really there) I find the reaction very interesting. Some bits I agree with:
We get it, Georgetown, English majors are poor. But instead of accepting that people like teachers and journalists get paid shitty salaries, how about re-evaluating why we give those professions the shaft?
Totally get it. Agree teachers and journalists should be paid more. So should cops and firefighters. But why are teachers paid so poorly despite a job requiring a bachelor’s degree? State governments are able to, much like corporations, keep wages artificially low. What about journalists? Is it because it doesn’t require a specific degree and a lot of students graduating college have dreams of going into journalism? But the author seems to think there’s only two options here:
A future of unhappy robots is pretty bleak. It’s well-documented that a good salary alone can’t make you happy. That’s doubly true if the job isn’t suited to your talents. Doing away with arts or humanities, whether in kindergarten or college, gives credence to those horrible parents in movies who crow that “singing doesn’t put food on the table” before their kid turns out to be Lauryn Hill.
You know what? I did give up my first love of music in order to find something with a paycheck in it. I knew there tons of musicians and very few jobs in it. Unfortunately, I thought pursuing my “passion” in a liberal arts degree would be different. It wasn’t.
I’m an engineer. I love it. I think the problem is too many people think they can only be happy writing or painting or something. But really now that I’m in the working world I can find I can be happy doing a lot of different things. But a solid career (like engineering) provides a stable middle class lifestyle. Which when you’ve spent four years and potentially spent tens of thousands of dollars is kind of nice.
I don’t think we should tell everyone to go be an engineer. If you read my blog at all you know I constantly complain about the fact that first corporations and now the media are perpetuating this STEM shortage myth. Now I really enjoyed my liberal arts education. I wish it was valued and taught alongside job-specific education as a means of enriching society. But I do think it’s pretty foolish to tell your kid to major in their passion and let them believe a college degree, any degree, is the key to a middle class lifestyle when that’s no longer true. Many college bound students don’t really understand this. We don’t teach economics as well as we should in high school and many will come from households where parents are doing okay with no degree or with unrelated degrees. It’s hard for them to grasp the fact that the world has changed. That simply staying in middle class is a new struggle.
In the end we need people to do everything. We need engineers, scientists, even business majors. Just maybe not as many liberal arts graduates as we’ve had. Or at least make sure we’ve been honest with them about their possible pay and employment just like the survey does a good job of doing. Just today there’s a story on NPR about how law schools might be inflating the employment and pay data to lure in new students. I think a bit of honesty, as well as the truth about how important a satisfying income can be to one’s hopes and dreams, is essential. Not to mention there are many happy engineers, accountants, doctors, etc. And accusing people in those professions of not being creative enough is really short sighted.