Oberlin Blogs

Redefining Value In a College Major

March 9, 2014

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

Recently, I came across an article in the Oberlin Review entitled "Oberlin College Ranked U.S.'s Worst Return on Investment." On the surface, the discussion was nothing new to me yet it struck me so much that I had to blog about it. In light of thinking about education, learning, and how the means and ends of education are valued in American society, this post ties in well with some of my inner-monologues.

**DISCLAIMER: I would like to caution readers that the aforementioned article is found in the Opinions section of the Review (so keep that in mind) and that I am merely offering counter-context for what resonated with me personally. Unfortunately, at the time of this posting the article was not available digitally. In lieu of the actual article (which will be provided when available), the following excerpted quotes offer a chance to rethink some of the assertions made.**

Opening Remarks
"It has been known for years now that Oberlin College is an elite college that provides a fantastic education but has what Business Insider determines as the worst return on investment in the country. And for some reason, nobody seems to care."

I am not an economist and I am not going to claim knowing how to calculate return on investment for a college degree. However, a quick Google search led me to Business Insider's "2013 College ROI Report" which makes me question how is the worth of my degree evaluated? Moreover, what is the method for such an evaluation? Thankfully, there is a methods page that does a decent job of contextualizing terms, variables and conditions of the study.

As far as campus culture, I believe that people do indeed care about where their degree will or will not take them. It is not something that recent graduates question, but all class levels have that ongoing discussion. Somewhere somebody cares about how far their money is going for this Oberlin degree. I certainly do. My point? Folks do care.

The Number
"Oberlin students should care, and here's why: 40 percent of 2013 graduates are unemployed, and one third of graduates are working in positions that do not require a degree."

Nothing is new about college graduates not always securing employment directly after graduation. What is not always a part of the conversation is what are the circumstances of not having employment? What are the 40% doing? Volunteer work, unpaid internships, gap years? Or to keep it real, are they just not replying to emails so there is no real data for them? Basically, there is a larger dynamic going on that is affecting these graduates from securing careers immediately post-graduation. A number of factors can influence this statistic so a blanket statement like this just does not do it for me.

A Word to the Wise
"As mentioned, students need to take an active role in shaping their careers after school. The future of the U.S. economy will be centered on advances in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

I cannot argue that this is not accurate. I agree that students should take an active role in shaping their careers after college (i.e. networking, gaining resume building experiences, learning how to effectively self-promote, building your personal brand and anything that is going to help you out academically and professionally in the long run). What I do not take as easily is that there is no room in the U.S. economy for majors outside of STEM fields.

My talents and passions do not lead me to a STEM career and certainly do not allow me to accomplish what I have to give to the world. However, claps for the folks whose passions are there and can give to the world in that way. It is just not for me. Innovations in STEM fields is fantastic and necessary but so is the work of non-STEM students which brings us to our final excerpt.

Valuing Degrees and Relevancy
"Students should not be demanding the expansion of departments that make Oberlin even less competitive: CAST, ethnic studies, GSF/queer studies, sociology, etc. These courses are irrelevant to adding value to the modern world.The future of the economy is STEM based, and value is derived from what you can dream up and technologically execute."

I will begin by saying it is statements and beliefs similar to this that make the demand for expansions of these departments necessary and contribute largely to the image of Oberlin as the "progressive, inclusive, liberal" space it markets itself to be. Secondly, Oberlin's competitiveness is a relative measure and is not solely reducible to the presence of non-STEM programs, so that claim can go too. Now let us move on to this question of relevance to the modern world.

In my opinion, the social sciences (and the humanities as well) are not irrelevant because they focus on the human condition and the different ways in which humanity is enacted, impacted, transformed and redefined across time. I see value in that and as long as humans persist to exist, that value will be there. On top of that, noticing the nuances of society and its structure is a talent that when used alongside other courses of study is invaluable to the further progression of the modern world.

The work that I do as a social science major matters not only in Oberlin, but to my community, my life and this world. More than anything, what matters in my college major is finding a way to frame my talents in the kind of endeavors that matter the most to me and allow me to be as impactful as I wish to be. What I dream up comes from a legacy of dreams (dreams that had to be fought for, might I add) and whether an HTML code or an equation is attached to that is certainly the only irrelevant thing here in this conversation. Let me do me and be impactful in my own way without further evaluation of why my life work has to fit into anyone else's interpretation of the world.

In the essence of space, I will leave you all with this food-for-thought quote as always:

"For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson


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