March of the Privileged Clueless

by Shaker librarian314

I make it a point to regularly peruse the Washington Post as it's my local paper, being a denizen of the greater Washington, DC metro area. One of the "gems" from this morning's paper was a piece by Peter Whoriskey entitled: "On path to riches, no sign of fluffy majors." The article tries to discuss the findings of a study done by Georgetown University's Center for the Education and the Workforce on the value of an undergraduate education—but fails abysmally.

The overview of Whoriskey's article is that, when viewed across an entire career, those with bachelor's degrees in engineering, comp sci, and business, make more than those with bachelor's degrees in education, English, the arts, and psychology, the so called "fluffy" majors, as named by whomever's penning the headlines for Whoriskey's stories. The author decided that the best way to determine the relative value of a college degree was how much earning potential one had when one graduated in the field in which they studied.

He cites findings from the Georgetown study, which state that:
The individual major with the highest median earnings was petroleum engineering, at $120,000, followed by pharmaceutical sciences at $105,000, and math and computer sciences at $98,000.

The lowest earnings median was for those majoring in counseling or psychology, at $29,000, and early childhood education, at $36,000. Workers with a bachelor's degree in English language and literature, the most popular major within the humanities, have median earnings of $48,000.
He also helpfully notes: "Over a lifetime, the earnings of workers who have majored in engineering, computer science or business are as much as 50 percent higher than the earnings of those who major in the humanities, the arts, education and psychology, according to an analysis by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce."


Thanks, dude, for mansplaining to me that what I studied in college has minimal monetary value and that I should have studied something that would have paid better. I would have never figured it out on my own!

The privileged cluelessness of this dude is grating. The fact that he wrote the entire piece and never considered, or at least never addressed, in even the most cursory way, the part gender plays both in what majors people choose, and the jobs they go on to get and keep, and their earning potential over a lifetime, shows me he's got no real understanding of the complexities of the situation. The fact that the "fluffy" majors often require an advanced degree to get the slightly better paying jobs is equally ignored.

A much better write-up of the original study which uses Census data from the last 40 years to track the salaries of those with bachelor's degrees, without advanced degrees, and working full-time can be found at Inside Higher Ed, entitled "Major Decisions" by Kevin Kiley. This actually discusses both the gender and ethnic biases in employment and monetary remuneration that the study discovered, which Whoriskey, of the Post article, totally ignores. This review also includes the fact that, "that graduate degrees have been essentially required for some undergraduate majors if those students were to find good jobs."

The Inside Higher Ed article highlights that higher education is worth it because, "college graduates, on average, have made 84 percent more over their lifetime than individuals with only a high school diploma, and almost every major tends to be worth it in the end, students from some majors are locked into career paths that don't pay well." The plight of early childhood education majors was particularly noted as having especially poor advancement potential.

I just wish that Whoriskey had done a better job of reporting the findings of the Georgetown study. He boiled it down into a useless, meaningless sludge that totally erases our cultural biases against caring professions and creativity. I wish he'd used his space to actually say something helpful.

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