College Grads and Jobs

Many people enroll in college thinking a degree will make them instantly employable. This is obviously not true.
Take a glimpse at any page of the Occupy Wall Street gallery and you're sure to find numerous examples of people who built up ruinous debt but can't find work. The Great Recession certainly hasn't helped in the US, but this is a problem universities have been talking about for decades.

Take China, for example. China has survived the global economic crisis virtually unscathed. In 2010, their economy grew by 10%. Yet ~30% of their recent college graduates don't find jobs, and thousands of those employed live in highly educated slums. China recent announced a new strategy for dealing with this problem. They are going to eliminate college majors with low employment rates. We don't know which majors yet but in a manufacturing-based economy, finance, management and statistics will probably fare better than poetry, history, or theoretical math.

As a liberal arts professor, I'm ambivalent about this. Part of me wants to say that higher education is (and should be) idealistic, with the goal of producing citizens who will think in new ways and be prepared for challenges undreamt. And part of me realizes that encouraging students to take on $160,000 in debt to prepare for a career in social work (salary ~$30 k/year) is not demonstrating good critical thinking. And the fact of the matter is that some major always has the be the easiest, and a huge number of college students chose majors based on least resistance rather than aptitude or passion. Eliminating a major won't help these people find jobs. Instead, it will be more useful to provide students with means to demonstrate skills employers want, facilitate internships and co-op opportunities, and require a strong work ethic in every class.