The big issue about college education that gets all the attention today is its rising cost, which for two decades has increased well above national inflation rates.
But a story on The Washington Post website points to another concern: A whole lot of college graduates in a 2021 Federal Reserve survey wish they had majored in a different field of study.
The Post’s analysis of the Fed’s data indicates that the higher a respondent’s income today, the less likely he is to regret his major. But the survey includes some valuable information that ought to be passed on to today’s college students, or those who soon will attend college — or those who are paying tuition.
By a sizable margin, more arts majors surveyed wish they had studied something else in college. Humanities and arts majors led the way with a 47% regret rate. And 40% or more of those who majored in social and behavioral sciences, vocational and technical training, or education wish they had chosen differently.
However, there is much second-guessing in the survey. The most satisfied group was engineering majors, but 24% — almost one in four — wish they’d picked another field. Business, management, law, life sciences, health, physical sciences, math, and computer science majors all had regret rates above 30%.
Perhaps this is the place to point out that in most cases, a specific major does not consign a graduate to a specific career path. Stories abound of people who seized an opportunity to do something different and more to their liking, or who created their own such opportunity.
If anything, the Fed survey underscores the fact that a lot of college students really aren’t sure what they want to do, and need a little more time to figure it out.
Another important point: Half of the students who went to private, for-profit schools regret their major. That may be because they are more likely to be saddled with large education debts. But only 21% of public university students and 30% of those who attended private non-profits report the same regrets. It’s another red flag about for-profit schools. Be careful.
Here’s a trend to be aware of: The STEM group of majors — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are adding a lot more students, while enrollment in the humanities majors — English, history, classical studies and such — continues to decrease. Nursing and other medical fields also are adding more majors.
This is not a surprise. The country’s jobs are rapidly evolving to place more emphasis on technological and medical expertise. And the differences in pay between those fields and the humanities can be significant — especially if you borrowed money to attend college.
A final point of the Post story: According to an economist’s study of 2014 to 2018 census data, college graduates will, at a minimum, earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more in their lifetimes than those with only a high school education. In many cases, the career earnings difference is well above $1 million.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal