Sunday, November 27, 2011

Math and Science Majors Reward College Graduates

Northeast Minnesota students compete in NESC's Knowledge Bowl competition.
What course of study, what careers, will these girls choose?   (Photo: Paul Brinkman)

The tweet from global technology guru Vinod Khosla grabbed my attention: "College majors with bleak outlook to be phased out."  I clicked the link immediately as a flood of assumptions washed over me.  Well, the economy is catching up to higher education, I thought.  Belts are tightening everywhere.  Don't forget, colleges are businesses too.  Wait a minute!  What about the arts?

To my surprise, the article came from a web site called China Daily.  Apparently, China's Ministry of Education plans to phase out college majors with a bleak employment outlook amid disappointing prospects for the country's college graduates.  Interesting news but I was searching for a direct U-S connection.

Fortunately for me, gurus like Mr. Khosla earn their status through, among other things, pluck and timing.  A second tweet from his stream came through just minutes after the first: College Students Need to Look at These Charts Before Deciding on a Major.  This new tweet seemed to hold greater promise.  But what charts?  I clicked the new link.

U.S. Employment rates by college major   (Source: Business Insider)
Based upon findings in a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce  at Georgetown University, a web site called Business Insider asks a fundamental question: which college majors yield the highest incomes?  As the web article affirms, we have literally "tons of information out there about majors, employment and earnings."

So, rather than basing conclusions on anecdote and intuition, the web article and its related charts provide a remarkable summary of college majors and their "economic coattails."  Although much of the information is not entirely unexpected, all of it is quantified and some of it is even counter intuitive.  No problem.  The mix of the expected and the unexpected often helps us think...critically.  Clearly, both the web article and the original university research offer much to explore and inform.
In fact, the data on employment prospects relative to college majors raises important issues in the broader marketplace.  China plans to address these issues through public policy and social engineering.  And, at least for now, the U-S will continue to focus on standards, guidelines and grants.  In the meantime, freshly minted college graduates with their majors of choice continue to launch themselves  into the employment market.  Although passion matters, education is more than a job mill, and career choice is complex and multi-faceted, uninformed decisions in college - even earlier - have life-long repercussions.  At minimum, this information offers some perspective to those willing to consider the consequences of college and career.

At the Northeast Service Cooperative, we see math and science education as vitally important.  We offer enrichment activities for students such as the Minnesota Inventors' Congress as well as Knowledge Bowl and professional development initiatives for educators such as the Math & Science Teacher Partnership.  We're interested in what's working for you in your space, your world.  Let us know.

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