BALANCING HOPES, DREAMS AND A LOW-PAYING COLLEGE MAJOR By Anna Helhoski Humanities majors are more than a punchline. Not everyone can or wants to be a STEM major, and the world would be a poorer place if they were. To have great things to read, music that inspires, perspectives that challenge us – to have a sense of reward and meaning in life – we must have students who pursue college degrees that don’t lead directly to a big paycheck. That turns the pursuit of intellectual curiosity and artistic appreciation into a balancing act: the likelihood you’ll make a good living versus the debt you incur along the way. “I encourage students to find this balance between what they like and what pays,” says Nicole Smith, research professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce. “I’m not discounting how beneficial these positions are to our society as a whole, but if you can’t pay back your student loan, you’ll be in a serious state,” Smith says.
Liberal arts grads face longer odds compared with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees, but a well-chosen humanities major doesn’t have to be a vow of poverty.
How long does it take to recoup what you paid? To assess the value of earning a specific degree at a specific institution, consider the concept of price-to-earnings premium, spearheaded by Michael Itzkowitz, senior fellow of higher education at Third Way, a center-left think tank. It measures what you pay out of pocket, including loans, against the amount you’ll earn each year above the earnings of a typical high school graduate. The results show how quickly you can get a return on investment in your college major. The majority of liberal arts degrees lead to a “pretty good ROI,” says Itzkowitz, but the specific program you graduate with and the type of degree you earn will affect individual outcomes.
• 11 •
Powered by FlippingBook