Report: Don't Major in the Humanities, You Broke Idiot

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Liberal arts majors in love
A new report submitted to the Texas Legislature says that Texans who earn their bachelor's degrees in the humanities have higher levels of debt and lower earning potential than people who get degrees in math and science-related fields. In 2010, the majors with the highest rates of unemployment were humanities and foreign language degrees; in both of those (rather broad) categories, rates of joblessness were around 15 percent.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the report, titled "Balancing Passion and Practicality," wasn't released from the state Department of No-Shit Studies. Instead, it's a product of TG, a rather odd corporation created in the 1970s by the Legislature. TG stands for Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation, and they have a vested financial interest in making sure the state's college students don't default on their debt.

Until June 30, 2010, TG acted as a middle-man between the federal government and Texas college students receiving Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) loans. It's overseen by a board of directors who are appointed directly by the Governor. The company reviewed loan applications and guaranteed the loans, which totaled out to about $74.2 billion to more than 4.5 million borrowers and their parents. The program ended, and students now borrow and repay the U.S. Department of Education directly. But TG is still guaranteeing around $20 billion in FFELP loans. According to their website, "most of TG's income is derived from fees on the student loans the Corporation has guaranteed and recovery fees on loans it collects."

TG, as you can imagine, has become very passionate about making sure that college students pay back the money they've borrowed. (For a fee, they even offer "default aversion solutions" to colleges, programs designed to help the schools better chase down recalcitrant borrowers.)

The new report, though, is aimed at showing Texas legislators where they say the problem begins: students who borrow a ton of money to get degrees in fields that probably won't pay them much right after graduation (or ever).

Using data from 2009, TG found that people with Engineering degrees can expect to earn the highest monthly salary after graduation, around $3,250. At the same time, they can expect to pay student loans of around $229 a month, or seven percent of their income. Humanities majors, meanwhile, rank at the very bottom: they can look forward to around $1300 month and $237 a month in loans, or a whopping 18 percent of their monthly income. They didn't find that median income differed greatly for people who earned degrees from private institutions versus public ones.

The report also states that people will still go into those no-money fields if they're total suckers. Sorry. It actually says that "students will continue to major in programs that generally lead to low-paying, high unemployment occupations if they are passionate about them." But it urges students in those majors "to be aware of the economic reality and have backup career plans."

TG suggests that staff at colleges and universities can encourage students to borrow money "sensibly," remain aware of their loan amounts, and finish their degrees quickly. The entire report focuses on personal responsibility, with little or no analysis of rising tuition fees or predatory lending practices. But both are factors which are also helping push the loan bubble past $1 trillion and force students into a situation which they can't even file for bankruptcy to escape.

The report also recommends that schools use analytics to examine "prospective debt-to-income ratios" in order to determine students who are at higher risk of not repaying their loans." Once you've ID'ed those future low earners, it says, "schools should adopt a more proactive, even intrusive [emphasis ours], approach to counseling," one that "urges students to receive financial literacy training, undergo refresher training on loan repayment options and responsibilities, and participate in career counseling sessions or classes."

"We're not saying don't go into social work or theater arts or something like that," Jeff Webster told the Texas Tribune. He's TG's assistant vice president of research and analytical services. "What we're saying is: Make those decisions informed, and have a realistic expectation for what your earnings might be and how much debt you're going to cover after you leave school."

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54 comments
daingerfield1950
daingerfield1950

It has always been my contention that people that major in psychology do it for one of  two reasons.  One is that they generally want to help others overcome a troubled or fragile psyche.  The other is that they want to try use four years of study to try to find out what is wrong with themselves.  Both of my wives were from the latter persuesion.

Darren Dupre
Darren Dupre

The article was a tad snarky but all the points are valid. If you go into any field, go into it because you have a passion and can succeed doing it. If you're only picking one of these types of fields because it's easier than the rest (let's face it, many do for that reason), then maybe college isn't the place for you. It seems valid to me to look at how these taxpayer-funded loans are being handed out.. Should we sit idly by as we loan students money as they go into fields that are shown to have a very slow return on investment?

Tim Devine
Tim Devine

I have a Master's in Humanities, and I take issue with your article. Getting a humanities degree means opening your mind to new challenges and exposing yourself to ideas, cultures, literature, philosophy, and an overall meta-experience of what it means to be a human in this pluralistic society. Also, um, you guys aren't hiring, are you?

NaiveWhiteGuiltLib
NaiveWhiteGuiltLib

Yeah, like our country really needs more naive white-guilt hipster libtard "progressive advocacy journalists" or "artists".

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

The problem is compounded when students think they have to go to an elite and/or expensive school. If you want to be a teacher, you don't need to go to Rice or Austin College or Baylor or SMU. You can study two years at a Dallas County Community College and finish up somewhere like Texas A &M at Commerce or UT-Dallas. You'll receive a quality education and won't owe nearly as much when you graduate.

jmalikow
jmalikow

@txindyjourno Or, just don't go into debt to be a humanities student. Problem solved!

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

The humanities are learnt out in larger society.  As Albert Einstein observed, "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18." 

 

And necessity has always been a harsh midwife.  The Arts, in the main, are off message.

 

Your opinion is but merely an avocation and not something most Americans would pay good money for.

 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Hmm.  Seems last I heard, MBAs were out there struggling to find jobs as well.

listenermark
listenermark

My BFA has worked out fine.  I work in my field and my only debt is a modest mortgage.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

I do think colleges have a duty to disclose this information to students--they don't, they don't care at all.  Even state schools will lie to those who seek information about alternative routes to certifications. 

bmarvel
bmarvel

Funneling students into no-nonsense courses that prepare them to take their places in the machinery of production will not only ensure that those student loans get paid off in a timely manner and that parents will see a big return on their educational investment. It will also guarantee business a steady flow of docile worker bees whose time is not taken up with unnecessary and unproductive thoughts about history, justice, fairness, and the prevailing political arrangements.     

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Obamacare's Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MPAC), established by the law to supervise the $700 billion in Medicare cuts and whose decisions have the force of law, has voted to impose drastic pay cuts on all doctors under Medicare and, by extension, under Medicaid.  The cuts will effectively reduce the real pay for specialists by 50% over the next ten years --- including a 25% reduction over the next three years -- and gut general practitioners' pay by one-third over ten years.

 

So I'd avoid medical doctor degrees too.  The debt load is off the scale.

 

I wanna live the life of a Julia, who never has to graduate past kindergarten mentality. At age 3, Julia is enrolled in Head Start programs. By 22, she and her kids are covered by her parents’ health care. At 42, she’s getting a small-business loan from the government. When she reaches 67, she’s retired and drawing Social Security benefits.

timetomoveon
timetomoveon

More plumbers. Less alt-weekly writers.

 

You've always got Starbucks as a fallback with your Masters of Barista Sciences degree.

anon
anon

It's not the fault of the people who want humanities degrees. It's the colleges, who use humanities as a cash cow to offset the huge money they devote to the hard sciences. How much should an English degree cost? I'd say about $10k over 4 years, at most. 

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

We need a report to tell us this? First thing my dad said when looking at colleges was "and don't even think about majoring in humanities!". He considered a major in humanities akin to living in an "acid colony". 

J_A_
J_A_

 @EastDallasDad I wish I could like this a million times. The problem is so many college students feel like they deserve the glorified party experience they see in movies. In the end you end up with loads of debt, fewer brain cells & an alcohol problem. But it was sweet smoking weed everyday, mannnn!

txindyjourno
txindyjourno

@jmalikow Because that way, only children of privilege will be able to afford a liberal arts degree.

bmarvel
bmarvel

 @holmantx 

One doesn't "learn" humanities, as though one were picking up job skills or finding one's way around the city.

One acquires the humanities through reading the best that has been written, by exposure to ideas, by thinking, conversation, even argument. One acquires the humanities by experiencing the arts, by encounters with other cultures, other modes of thought. The humanities are a habit of mind as much as a body of knowledge and experience.The humanities include, by the way, some study of science and mathematics, of economics and politics, as well as literature, history, philosophy and the arts.

If the "larger society" you speak of routinely provided all this to its citizens, all would be well. But it doesn't. Even before a student is out of school the pressure is on to become productive, to pay back those bills, enter the marketplace and become a consumer.  

You can have an economy without the humanities. But you cannot have an informed citizenry without them. And without an informed citizenry you cannot have a democracy.

But then, perhaps, that's the point.

 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

 @holmantx Yuck.  You certainly should have taken your English courses much more seriously.  "Learned" is preferable to "learnt".  "Avocation", as you're using it, is archaic.  And Einstein, being the misanthropic recluse that he was, should have stuck to theories of relativity.  

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

 @bmarvel If anything all majors should  require a Humanities minor. Basic courses in logic and philosophy so students can examine what they really believe and not just parrot ideas they've grown up with. Art to better appreciate their surroundings and feel a connection with the past. Literature so they may learn that mankind has always struggled with the same issues that face it today. More than anything it gives you a sense of place in the world.

 

 

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

 @bmarvel This is perhaps my favorite comment ever, Bill. And I swear it's not just my 50 grand in debt talking. 

observist
observist topcommenter

 @holmantx It's always amusing to Google the text of your posts and find out where you cut-and-pasted them from (without giving credit, of course)

 

"(MPAC) established by the law to supervise $500 billion in Medicare cuts. MPAC, whose decisions have the force of law, has voted to impose drastic pay cuts on all doctors under Medicare and, by extension, under Medicaid"

 

The funny thing about this particular sentence, which appears to have originated with Dick Morris on October 28, 2011, is that it is repeated verbatim across a dozen conservative news sites, blogs and comment threads, often without citation.  My personal favorite was in a comment thread on MMO-Champion.com.

 

http://www.mmo-champion.com/threads/1153504-Supreme-Court-upholds-the-Affordable-Health-Care-Act-in-its-entirety?p=17360379

timetomoveon
timetomoveon

How about you don't want to pay you don't buy? 

RTGolden
RTGolden

 @anon It's not a question of how much the degree SHOULD cost.  There is what we think it should cost to obtain a certain education, and then there is the reality of what it DOES cost.  Colleges will continue to charge ridiculous amounts for college education as long as fools and their parents continue to cough up the money for them.  It IS the fault of the people who want humanities degrees, because they have a personal responsibility to do the financial research behind their education.

I told my kids I would pay for a useful undergrad degree, and then, if they are still interested, I'd help them in obtaining a useless degree.  ('useful' and 'useless' here refer to marketability)  My oldest has a passion for music, so he is double majoring, and offsetting the additional expenses with an ROTC scholarship and grants.  I think I made my point with him rather well.

YouOweMeNothing
YouOweMeNothing

 @kergo1spaceship Some people don't have functional parents who can instill such wisdom into their kids, the common sense to figure it out on their own or with resources, or, sadly, the intelligence to actually deal with money, and that's the reality in which we live. Reports and studies help us figure out how serious the problem is so that it can begin to be addressed by whoever pays attention and decides to step up to the problem - volunteers, foundations, government entities, Batman, etc. Financial and vocational counseling would probably save a ton of college students and sometimes parents a ton of unnecessary student loan debt. Many adults could also use financial counseling. The better education people get about higher level money handling (interest rates, credit ratings, IRAs and retirement plans), the better they can avoid pitfalls and prepare themselves for when the worst of reality smacks them in the face.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @bmarvel you two don't get around much, and I admit my Dallas dialect is a bit rusty.  Learnt.  Just not spoken around these parts.  To dis it indicates you are unconscious provincialists masquerading as the enlightened.

 

As for the rest of your soliloquy, all that is found in the life experience.  The bulk of it cannot be taught. The technical aspects . . . the basics . . . of being effective in society (work) should be what the newly-minted adult should concentrate on.  Boring and difficult? certainly. Skip the self-importance and ply toward that which you can fail at. The young do not have much time to arm themselves with the kind of basics they must possess so they will not be a drain on society.  Me thinks we have an overabundance of the spiritual, as it is.

 

The same people who are murdered slowly in the mechanized slaughterhouses of work are also arguing, singing, drinking, dancing, making love, holding the streets, picking up weapons and inventing a new poetry. - Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934), Belgian Situationist philosopher. The Revolution of Everyday Life, ch. 5 (1967; tr. 1983).

 

 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @observist It's always amusing to see what the clove-smoking, bell-bottom-wearing Give Chance a Piese crowd finds amusing.  

 

Rome Burns

 

You fiddle

 

Today's Wall Street Journal:

 

The Regulatory Cliff Is Nearly as Steep as the Fiscal One

The president has postponed damaging rules until after the November election.

 

Next year will bring not only new rules but new regulators. The Independent Payment Advisory Board—a bureaucracy created by the president's health-care law—has vast authority over patient care and health markets, yet it is immune from the usual public input and review requirements that apply to other regulators.

 

As the American Medical Association and others have pointed out, the board is charged with the contradictory mandate of cutting Medicare reimbursement rates to health-care providers, without reducing benefits or finding new ways to increase value. The result will be a technocratic body with almost unchecked power to limit access to care for Medicare patients.

 

According to a 2011 Gallup survey, overregulation tops the list of "most important problems" facing America's small-business owners. With our economy stuck in the worst jobs slump since the Great Depression, the pressing need is to build a regulatory climate that encourages investment, growth and job creation. Avoiding the coming regulatory cliff, like the fiscal cliff, will require new leadership at the top.

 

observist
observist topcommenter

 @holmantx Oops - I attached this reply to the wrong holmantx comment.  See older comment above.

timetomoveon
timetomoveon

You're going to correct my grammar while using "nah" and "NBD" in the same post?

 

But NBD is right because I may have made a grammatical error but you're still a broke idiot.

anon
anon

 @timetomoveon that's why the govt should stop guaranteeing student loans. if schools want to charge outrageous sums to majors with poor career prospects, let them be on the hook for the money. I guarantee that my school, which graduates only liberal arts majors, has fewer graduates (by %) defaulting on student loans than UT's undergraduate business school. 

RTGolden
RTGolden

 @YouOweMeNothing "... the common sense to figure it out on their own or with resources, or, sadly, the intelligence to actually deal with money, and that's the reality in which we live."

 

But EVERYONE should go to college.  Or so the shiny suits tell us on the TV every so often.

bmarvel
bmarvel

 @holmantx I have no problem with "learnt." That was some other blogger.

 

bmarvel
bmarvel

 @holmantx 

"took over the Democrat Party and went to Washington," did they?

Not the best advertisement for your proposal that the humanities be learned out in the larger society.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

You two are arguing a false dichotomy.  The principle feature of the university experience is to require exposure to "the Arts" both academically and casually.  Even in technical schools generally liberal arts are required.  And, if one wishes to major in the liberal arts, they should be advised that that degree is only for those seeking a PhD in the field to teach at university, or a teaching position in High Schools, or as a double major with a Technical degree (accounting, math or whatever)

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @bmarvel they took over the Democrat Party and went to Washington.

bmarvel
bmarvel

 @holmantx 

"singing, drinking, dancing, making love, holding the streets, picking up weapons" sounds like how we were preparing newly-minted adults for citizenship back in the late 1960s. How did that turn out, anyway?  

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @observist thanks.  What really disturbs me is that no one is advocating this.  It's not that complex, the Dems should be able to make real hay over this.  Further, Alice Rivlin and Alan Sloan both seem befuddled by my proposal.  It seems straight forward to me, but to have ostensibly learned people express such doubt makes me really wonder.  What worries me more is that this kind of sophistry permeates so much of our media that I have zero hope for this country.  It leaves us utterly at the whim of the politicians understanding this and their largess, if they get it.  I made this argument to about 50 MBAs from Harvard, Kellogg, Stanford, Northwestern, Wharton, Columbia as well as UT and SMU.  None agreed with me, but none could refute it.  I at least understand these guys not rocking the boat, they'll benefit from this system, but why the lowly support them is baffling.

observist
observist topcommenter

 @scottindallas  I read the long post on time.com that you linked to a few days ago.  It makes sense to me.  It specifically incents productive capitlal investments instead of just hoping corporations and the very wealthy will make such investments instead of investing in, say, synthetic CDO's.  Makes much more sense than the Laffer curve BS the Republicans have been repeating like a mantra for 30 years, despite all empirical evidence to the contrary.  I'll vote for the scottindallas plan. 

 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @observist  @holmantx Obs.  have you read my argument that something like a return to the  64 tax code (with the top bracket being like $1m) actually work to increase GDP.  It seems capital intensive firms are favored through the higher depreciation, and the availability of ample deductible avenues.  Where what I term cap lite production is naturally hit, and the top end suppressed in income-- professionals, finance, media, lobbyists, and corruption. 

These deductions and the benefit of depreciation are irrelevant at the present low rates.  This makes it easier to liquidate capital, where high rates make it harder to justify.  That far from fleeing the country, firms would actually seek to increase domestic expenses, capital facilities, even labor costs as these would all off-set gross profits, reducing net profits. 

 

I see a need to perhaps index the rates for extra large firms, or perhaps the decentralization it might force might even have a bad effect.  You may not agree in spirit with the idea of a 50-66% top marginal rate on incomes exceeding $1m/yr,  with cap gains of 33-50%, perhaps also indexed.  I don't expect effective tax rates to raise that much, in fact, when you think about it, the greater the spread between nominal and effective rates, the greater the incentive for flight to these deductible avenues.  Lowering and flattening rates would seem to make it harder to get investment in capital intensive industries when cap lite has such a lower entry cost. 

observist
observist topcommenter

 @holmantx Congrats on the citation, but you should mention it's the WSJ Op-Ed page, not actual reporting.

 

And with regards to your juvenile stereotyping, I'm straight, white, anglo-saxon, non-smoking (of any kind), married with kids, have an MBA and a salary that puts me somewhere in the top 20% of households, and have never owned a pair of bell-bottoms in my life. 

 

I generally try to treat people as individuals, not caricatures, but some people make it really difficult.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @anon  @timetomoveon might free up some gov't funds to give grants to those who might need some assistance.  But loans so easily extended, across the whole population is certainly inflationary.  I know my prop. is inflationary too, but something needs to be available to help those who are qualified to go to school

observist
observist topcommenter

 @bmarvel

 They've witnessed first-hand the people the people who are too unqualified or unmotivated to get anything out of the experience.

bmarvel
bmarvel

 @RTGolden 

Usually it's the folks who declare that college is not for everyone that have been to college. Why is that?

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