Y Rn’t Job Kreators Kreating Jobz?

Gov. Pat might want to consider the demand side of the North Carolina higher ed-business equation
N.C. Governor's Office

A staffer at The Atlantic magazine discovered something interesting on the way to Gov. Pat McCrory making UNC Asheville offer degree programs in HVAC Maintenance and Repair:

There are two, well, schools of thought about why freshly-minted grads have had such a tough time recently. You can blame the smarty-pants majors or blame the economy. In other words, students can’t get good jobs either because they aren’t learning (at least not the right things) in college, or because there aren’t enough good jobs, period.

This is far from an academic debate. If recent grads can’t find good work because they didn’t learn any marketable skills, there’s little the government can do to help, besides “nudging” current students to be more practical. And that’s exactly what conservative governors in Florida and North Carolina are considering with proposals to charge humanities majors higher tuition* than, say, science majors at state schools.

But there’s an obvious question. If liberal arts majors “didn’t learn much in school,” as Jane Shaw put it in the Wall Street Journal, why haven’t they always had trouble finding work? Are there just more of them now, or is this lack of learning just a recent phenomenon? Well, as you can see in the chart below, there’s no correlation the past decade between the share of grads in the most maligned majors and the unemployment rate for college grads (which has been inverted here). It’s hard to see how the nonexistent rise of liberal arts explains the decline of job prospects.

It’s the job market, stupid. You want a state full of kids who can work maintenance at server farms? No problem — North Carolina’s community college system is an undervalued asset. But don’t dump on the humanities when they’re not causing the problem.

Unless, of course, you want to make the right noises for the unofficial corporate lobbying firm that, increasingly, is running the damn country.

*The Atlantic story does err in ascribing the “higher tuition for humanities” idea to both McCrory and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. All McCrory has said is that he wants public universities to adjust their curricula to more closely match employers’ needs.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest