Monthly Archives: June 2013

Career-Focused Majors?

Nate Silver (one of those “big data” guys who predicted the 2012 elections so well has a story in the New York Times (“As More Attend College, Majors Become More Career-Focused“) that looks at the changing number of majors.

fivethirtyeight-0625-major4-blog480Silver points out that while the percentage of awarded degrees in social sciences and history (He has other examples) may have declined, then number of people getting those degrees as a percentage of the overall population of 21-year-olds is stable.

Silver’s argument is that the shifting balance of college majors results from the fact that many of the student seeking certain practical degrees would not have been  attending college thirty years ago. So, it’s not that students are leaving English, History, and some of these majors– today’s “new” students are not coming to them in equal numbers.

This makes sense. As we’ve expanded the range of students coming into higher education there is no reason to believe that this new wave of students would be just like the previous generations.

In addition, the economy has changed. As Silver points out, the biggest increase in majors has been in the health professions.

Silver concludes that we need to think about both what we let students major in and what skills we try to give them all:

Perhaps the more important moral and policy question is what academic requirements should be in place, whether in English composition or probability and statistics, among students across all majors – including those who go to college with a specific career in mind…

It won’t be the right approach for every student or every university. But perhaps there can be a balance between recognizing two concepts: on the one hand, that college has become more of a necessity for more careers and a wider array of Americans; on the other hand, Americans are now more likely than before to change professions throughout their working lives. Perhaps we should at once encourage or require college students to take coursework in English – and tell them to be wary about majoring in it.


Issues about unpaid internships

A  story in the Chronicle of Higher Education (“Colleges Draw Criticism for Their Role in Fostering Unpaid Internships“) questions universities putting students into unpaid internships.

On one hand, we keep hearing more from employers about the value of some kind of internship or experiential learning. Employers like applicants with some kind of workplace experience that may develop and demonstrate valuable skills and the ability to function in a workplace.

On the other hand, businesses have conveniently created a large pool of unpaid labor. Part of the problem is that all students may not have access to these internships since they may lack the resources to go off and work without pay for months. Those of us in schools in small towns may not have very many internships nearby and asking students to find and afford housing in another city creates a major burden.


Impeach a UT Regent?

Republican Jim Pitts, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has  filed a resolution to impeach University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall. This isn’t a Democrat trying to embarrass a Republican governor or a minor player making some noise. This is a major player establishing that the power struggle over the direction of UT could become a major battle in the Legislature.

Did we cover anything important?


Here’s a strip (PHD Comics: Is that in the book?) that some of my faculty friends might want for your door. This is the kind of conversation I think about when I hear state legislators talk about “accountability” in higher education. Sometimes it’s not the schools fault when a student doesn’t graduate. In fact, it’s simply faculty doing their part to protect employers.

Perry’s education vetoes

The Education Blog at the Dallas Morning News has a quick summary (“Gov. Perry vetoes a couple of interesting education bills“) of  two education-related bills that Perry vetoed. The these bills had more to do with K-12 education, but those of us in higher education live with the consequences of these policies every day.

HB 2836 probably got into trouble with Perry because it mandated that “the assessment instrument must, on the basis of empirical evidence, be determined to be valid and reliable by an entity that is independent of the agency and of any other entity that developed the assessment instrument.” [Perry’s official statement on the legislation] It looks to me like the bill was vetoed because it challenged the cult of the standardized test and puts those tests on the defensive. Perry and the state education bureaucracy are probably worried about the possibility of the fig leaf being ripped off the state’s tests. It’s much safer to just assume that those tests are actually measuring something meaningful.

The big higher education veto was Perry’s veto of SB 15.  Perry’s veto statement is heavily coded political gibberish. Basically, the legislation would have limited the authority of university boards or regents. Of course, Perry didn’t accept the concerns about the regents he appoints and vetoed the bill to preserve initiatives he is pushing through these regents.

Why faculty don’t provide more input

I was recently asked to serve on another committee. I declined. This Non Sequitur comic sums explains my reluctance.