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China To Cancel College Majors That Don't Pay 463

Posted by Soulskill
from the bad-news-philosophy-majors dept.
theodp writes "The WSJ reports that China's Ministry of Education plans to phase out majors producing unemployable graduates. The government will soon start evaluating college majors by their employment rates, downsizing or cutting those studies in which more than 60% of graduates fail for two consecutive years to find work. What if the U.S. government were to adopt China's approach? According to the most recent U.S. census data, among the first majors to go: psychology, U.S. history and military technologies. Lest you computer programmers get too smug, consider this."
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China To Cancel College Majors That Don't Pay

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  • by the_humeister (922869) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:26PM (#38176354)

    That will just shift unemployable people to other majors!

  • Psych (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:27PM (#38176356)

    Psych is a default major for girls. If you effectively cancel it, you will just have a new default major.

    (Default majors are the majors that undecided people go into.)

    Of course, if you channeled default majors to fields we could really use people in, the average quality of that field's graduates would go down, but the quantity of available talent would go up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:34PM (#38176382)

    "downsizing or cutting those studies in which less than 60% of graduates fail for two consecutive years to find work"

    So, the only courses they'll keep are the ones where at least 60% of graduates are unemployable?

  • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:39PM (#38176414)

    What is wrong with doing this? China isn't banning knowledge about useless majors, it's simply declining to pay people to study majors that don't train people to be contributing members to society.

    The USA should absolutely do the same. We need more engineers and less psychology majors.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:41PM (#38176436) Homepage Journal

    Actually, I think that the US needs to make high school worth something again.

    Second would be encouraging technical schools, stuff where businesses are screaming they can't find employees.

    Third would be reigning in the cost of an education. There shouldn't be any excuse for tuition to be skyrocketing like it has for as long as it has. It's a classic sign of a bubble.

    Fourth would perhaps be cutting funding for, as the op mentions, 'unproductive majors'.

  • by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:42PM (#38176444)
    Why on earth would they want to make college cheaper? It's a business like anything else. Everyone knows a fair amount of the courses in most degree programs are required solely for the purposes of generating income.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:44PM (#38176464)

    Yes. They do. They really really do. Because I've taught the pre-med kids and by god they are NOT scientists when they come in. It's not just that they don't know very much - that we can fix by forcing them to study like crazy. But they can't THINK logically, solve problems analytically and it takes at least 4-5 years for most of them to actually finally begin to understand statistics, hypothesis testing, selection bias etc that they need before med school.

    I have little respect for many MDs as they appear to be inferior to databases, but at least they have some analytic skill. If you cut the premed you cut that. It makes me shudder to think of the kids only 2-3 years in being anywhere near making a treatment decision on someone with the flu, let alone diagnosing a complicated illness.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:44PM (#38176470)

    OWS would never happen.

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:44PM (#38176474)

    Intellectuals such as some in academia create progressive ideas that disrupt the cultural order of society. Therefore creating more of them will create more instability in society.

    The view therefore is to only create a society of people who will not rock the boat and make society or in this case, the party, wealthy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:45PM (#38176476)

    What is wrong with doing this? China isn't banning knowledge about useless majors, it's simply declining to pay people to study majors that don't train people to be contributing members to society.

    The USA should absolutely do the same. We need more engineers and less psychology majors.

    What happens when 60% of engineers are unemployable? This policy ignores the 40% of these majors that have jobs.

    The most fundamental problem with this is that a university education is NOT vocational training. It's not meant to be nor should it ever be. The problem in the US is that we have devalued trade schools. Not enough people are going into trades like plumber, carpenter, mechanic, etc...

  • by Kraftwerk (629978) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:48PM (#38176496)
    Why?! Free votes, who wouldn't vote for someone offering something like free education, or massive loans to anybody. Then the schools know how much you're getting, and guess what, prices shoot up to match the max the government gives you.
  • by Y.A.A.P. (1252040) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:51PM (#38176512)

    Looking at this quote in the article: "an overflow of workers whose skillsets don’t match with the needs of the export-led, manufacturing-based economy", it really doesn't look like China is thinking long-term.

    With how quickly more human-like robotics is coming along in recent years, it looks more and more like over half of those "manufacturing-based economy" jobs could be replaced by a robot that works better for those roles for less money than a human could.

    So, what does China do when all of those people are now without jobs. The same problem could be said to apply to all countries around the world as technology moves forward, but China is the one that is currently looking to concentrate people into this area that has has 'long-term obsolescence' stamped all over it. What do they do with all the people that they've trained to be unemployable, then? Soylent Green?

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blue trane (110704) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:51PM (#38176518) Homepage Journal

    It's bad because Liberty is an unalienable right, and the government has no business deciding what you should study.

    We are tool-builders, and we created money as a tool to help us. Instead we find economists treating money as a God to which we must sacrifice humans (not them, but other, poorer, humans).

    Unemployment is a good thing, a sign of economic progress, the result of higher productivity. What we should do is provide a basic income to everyone who wants one, and hold challenges to stimulate innovation and the advance of knowledge. Because it is knowledge that confers the greatest survival benefit by enabling us to better predict and adapt to sudden catastrophic change.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:52PM (#38176522)
    Not paying for it != saying you can't do it. They just want state money going somewhere that will actually return something.
  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:53PM (#38176528)

    I thought you went to college to get an education, not a job. You go to college to study subjects you enjoy and want to learn more about, as well as get some knowledge about more general subjects that are useful to any well-rounded person. The job should not be the ultimate goal of college, it should be a by-product of college. The pursuit of knowledge itself should create a job opportunity in the field you have chosen to study. If you simply want a job, you should not be going to college. You should be going to a vo-tech and learning a marketable trade skill, whether that be nursing, various mechanics (automotive, airplane, nautical, etc), haircutting, or basic IT maintenance/installation. You shouldn't be getting yourself into $75,000-100,000 worth of debt if all you want is a job. I know plenty of people that went the vo-tech route, because that's what they wanted to do. They realized they had no need to go to college. If you want to work on cars, you go to a vo-tech school and learn to be a mechanic. You don't go to a top engineering school and study mechanical engineering.

    For the record, my undergraduate degree was in History. Did I expect to get a job out of it? No. I studied it because I enjoyed it, it came naturally to me and was very easy for me, and it was what I wanted to study. My Master's degree is in something a little more marketable and applicable (International Relations), but even now I approach it more as an application of history as opposed to the more descriptive efforts of some political scientists (and I do not consider it to be a real science). I enjoyed my undergraduate psychology classes, my lit classes, my Shakespeare and film class, and my German and Arabic classes. If I had had time, I would have taken science classes as well, but with my AP credits science classes were not necessary. I went to college for the classical reason you go to college. I enjoyed learning about subjects I knew little about, and I wanted to know how things (and people) work in the world, and how things got to where they are today.

  • by blue trane (110704) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:54PM (#38176536) Homepage Journal

    Productivity should measure happiness and quality of life, not number of dollars produced. Money is a tool to serve us, not the other way around.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:01PM (#38176564)

    OH noes, I can't get my degree in Native American History anymore!

    If Native American History is what you want to study, the government has no right to tell you you can't. And even the most obscure and narrow fields of study could have some wider applicability. For all you know, by studying Native American History you could learn about nomadic or warrior-like tribes react when exposed to an outside, hostile force. Can you think of a couple situations that are happening right now where this might apply? I can. You can discover migration patterns of groups of people in response to certain stimuli such as drastic climate changes (early American inhabitants such as Clovis/paleo-Indian civilizations) or eradication of a primary food source. Again, events that could reasonably happen in the foreseeable future. Suddenly Native American History doesn't seem so easy to discard, does it?

  • by SuurMyy (1003853) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:05PM (#38176604) Homepage
    The businesses complain, because they want cheap labour. Therefore they will complain until there is an excess of people for a given field and they lower salaries, etc. So listening to their complaints is questionable.
  • by The Analog Kid (565327) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:12PM (#38176638)

    The US government doesn't need to tell colleges what majors to have, a market based solution would be much more efficient. Getting rid of student loans would not only would help stop people from majoring in useless degrees but it would lower the cost of tuition as students would no longer be easy sources of cash for the colleges, it would also stop the job requirement inflation. There's a lot of jobs that get posted with bachelor's required or at the very least bachelor's preferred, that do not need a bachelor's degree. It would probably take a number of years for the market to correct that, but eventually there would less people with bachelor degrees and companies would have to lower their requirements.

    The way it is these days, the government does not care what major you are going into, or how you'll even pay you're loans back. They don't care either, as it's nearly impossible to discharge student loans, they can garnish your wages, and "private" lender Sallie Mae also owns the collection agency. Unless you are going to never work in the US again, they will get their money back one way or another. No other loans in the US have the kind of protections for the creditor that student loans have. As a result there's no risk assessment done, where their would be if private loans with only the typical protections for loans were the only loans available. The lender would tell the wanna be poetry major to pick a more useful major, or get lost and pay for college themselves.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LordLucless (582312) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:19PM (#38176686)

    Don't be silly. He doesn't mean he gives you money, he means the Government's money, which, as everyone knows, doesn't count as other people's money at all. Because, you know, it's the Government!

  • Re:Psych (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordLucless (582312) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:22PM (#38176696)

    Some cheap swipe at women

    Uh-huh. Because saying that there's such a thing as default majors, and that women often choose psychology as theirs, is an example of rampant sexual prejudice. Because, through failed inference, you assume he doesn't think that men also have a default major.

    What we really need are more psych and English majors who are great at writing proposals and applications for grants.

    Yeah, the real productive work.

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:26PM (#38176732)

    Actually, I think that the US needs to make high school worth something again.

    Far too much control has shifted to the Educational Institution in this country to allow that to ever happen. Just look at the financial numbers behind a recent firing of a football coach and his staff.

    Second would be encouraging technical schools, stuff where businesses are screaming they can't find employees.

    Hey you businesses! Any of you want to pay a decent wage for all those vocational/technical jobs you're screaming for?

    (crickets)

    (Hmmm...I wonder if there's a correlation there...)

    Third would be reigning in the cost of an education. There shouldn't be any excuse for tuition to be skyrocketing like it has for as long as it has. It's a classic sign of a bubble.

    When you realize that the same people who brought you the financial meltdown are a lot of the same people who sit on the boards of higher education, you'll see exactly what kind of "bubble" they expect. If it's anything like the financial "bubble", they can't bring on an impending educational and financial apocalypse (and subsequent bailout for them to pocket) fast enough.

    Fourth would perhaps be cutting funding for, as the op mentions, 'unproductive majors'.

    Which I happen to think is an absolute horrible idea. When the entire purpose of higher education becomes the relentless pursuit of small pieces of little green paper, don't expect the true value of education to shine through. The arts...music...philosophy...all will become a dying breed(as if Autotune didn't kill music enough). All of them will fall victim to the greed and corruption that has taken control of this world. And it sickens me. If that is what we want to define as an "education", then don't expect the rest of the world to consider our society worth a shit as a whole as we march around as an Army of Borg representing nothing but well-educated Greed.

  • by Nimey (114278) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:27PM (#38176738) Homepage Journal

    Since HR departments everywhere started using "has a bachelor's degree" as a filter; you don't have the degree, you're unworthy of a job.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Howitzer86 (964585) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:35PM (#38176792)

    Besides, history is important. The people studying it don't expect to make money with it anyway. They study out of genuine interest, and they serve to keep history alive. Without the historians, the politicos will have complete control to rewrite it to say whatever it is they want.

    The Christian monks in the middle ages saved a lot of our pre-Dark Age history. They weren't paid very much to do it, but without them we wouldn't know half of what we do now about our history as a human race. If you use money as an excuse to dictate everything and everyone (naturally this is a kind of socialism), then you're in for a wild ride.

  • by sycodon (149926) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:37PM (#38176810)

    Just a job.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MaskedSlacker (911878) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:42PM (#38176856)

    Besides, history is important. The people studying it don't expect to make money with it anyway. They study out of genuine interest, and they serve to keep history alive. Without the historians, the politicos will have complete control to rewrite it to say whatever it is they want.

    That's a feature, not a bug, of cutting history majors. At least, as far as the Chinese government is concerned.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:46PM (#38176876) Homepage Journal

    OH noes, I can't get my degree in Native American History anymore!

    If Native American History is what you want to study, the government has no right to tell you you can't.

    Thats fine, but taxpayers shouldn't pay for the degree, either, nor should banks or taxpayers give you a loan for a degree that you'll never be able to pay for as a file clerk or a guy making Lattes. Just because you're interested in it doesn't mean that other people should pay for it. If Native American History is that much of a passion for you, and you don't have the grades for a scholarship, then take a year or two, work and put every available dime away, and pay for it yourself.

  • "socialism" is always bandied about as a dirty word. i think mainly because people don't understand the opposite word: "classism," which is worse: you go as far in life as how much money your parents have

    the truth is that no society can be a great society if it doesn't provide some sort of social safety nets. and no society is a meritocracy if it is willing to deny opportunity to people who are gifted, but aren't financially gifted

    for those of you who have this knee jerk automatic reaction to the word "socialism": why aren't you worried about classism? don't you see the evils in that? don't you see that a truly great society DOES have social safety nets and why they are needed? where do these automatic trigger reactions in your brain come from without an appreciation of simple facts and obvious history?

  • by MaXintosh (159753) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:05PM (#38177022)
    I'm probably going to rot in obscurity down here, since I'm posting so late to the story. However, someone over here [wordpress.com] did a really basic analysis with the typical "unemployment by college major" data that the Wall Street Journal put up. They looked at variance in unemployment related to popularity of a major. While the data set was incomplete (they didn't have true sample size, so they used rank, and transformed rank), it showed clear indications that those with the lowest sample size had the highest variance in unemployment. Far from making some broad claims about the utility of a major, it suggests that the less popular majors have big issues with small sample size. A single individual's employment history has far more effect on the statistics of those rare 'terrible majors' than the more populous ones. The only way to make the data trustworthy is to look at it for a much longer slice in time than we typically examine it for.

    Also, it's worth putting on your economics hat when you think of modifying incentives like this. The problem with the proposed structural change is it assumes that the government can react to changing incentives faster than an individual can. Where there is demand for labour is a shifting target from year to year, and decade to decade (Hell, it shifts from quarter to quarter in some cases!). By deciding where the incentives are, they government needs to be able to shift them to match need fast enough so when there's a shortage of Psychologists and a surplus of Biologists, people can react to it accordingly. I'm skeptical about a government's ability to react that quickly with policy. If you're going to include incentives, it's best to include incentives for education in general, and not for specific major, so such bias won't occur. If the incentives in the form of subsidization are equal across the board, demand signals should still be seen.

    And taking off my stats and economics hats, and putting on my skeptic hat, I want to see percentage-wise how much these 'terrible' majors actually cost the system. My intuition based off of the variance in unemployment vs. rank-popularity is that it doesn't cost the system much at all, and this is much-ado about nothing while the real expenses (Military spending, Medical spending) is ignored. Of course, much of the current fury over debt ignores the fact that the government is not like household/private debt. The two are functionally different.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:16PM (#38177106)

    There is an inverse relationship between the number of times people say they are smart and how smart the actually are.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by catchblue22 (1004569) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:31PM (#38177220) Homepage

    It's not that I think that I don't think that many of the light weight college degrees being handed out aren't a joke, because many of them are. I believe education should be rigorous, and to put it mildly, standards have dropped. However, I think it is a deep mistake to try to make all education the equivalent of job training. There is far more to life than making money. If we abolish, or significantly reduce the importance of the humanities in education, our entire society will become poorer in ways that are difficult to measure. I'm a physics guy, but I have found reading Homer, Gibbon, Plato and Aristotle immensely enriching. I don't read these things to make money. I read them because they are part of the shared history and culture of our society. They give me perspective on my own life and about our civilization. They inspire my curiously about the world. They help supply the "why" in regards to "what" I study.

  • Not really (Score:2, Insightful)

    by publiclurker (952615) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:35PM (#38177260)
    Since most of those baggers are retired. and then they are clueless enough to whine about entitlements.
  • Re:Psych (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt (22457) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:42PM (#38177292) Homepage Journal

    Most engineers are not employed by grants, nor are their research efforts funded by grant. Unless you're actually talking about China rather than the US, in which case it's also not grants.

  • by Surt (22457) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:57PM (#38177424) Homepage Journal

    Yep, kids can handle a tougher HS. I went to one that rendered my first two years at college useless. Sadly, I was only allowed to test out of so much content before they stopped being willing to give me that much credit. But we could clearly shift the learning forward by a couple of years for most people, and get those top people through the (typically most challenging) first year of the phd before they get legal access to alcohol.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @08:17PM (#38177646)

    Thats fine, but taxpayers shouldn't pay for the degree, either, nor should banks or taxpayers give you a loan for a degree that you'll never be able to pay for as a file clerk or a guy making Lattes. Just because you're interested in it doesn't mean that other people should pay for it. If Native American History is that much of a passion for you, and you don't have the grades for a scholarship, then take a year or two, work and put every available dime away, and pay for it yourself.

    Crazy liberals. Do you expect society and democracy to improve by preventing people from studying (no matter what)? Sure it costs money, but the inneficiencies generated by having an uneducated population in a democracy waste much more than that.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @08:20PM (#38177674)

    Regardless, the government is not subsidizing education so that the low income bracket can educate themselves on things that may be useful in a thousand years. The intent is to try to help them move out of the low income classes, and off the dole.

    If you're a rich kid and want to study native american history in the hopes that maybe you can realize Asimov's psychohistory, and your parents will pay for it, knock yourself out.

  • by Unoriginal_Nickname (1248894) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @09:11PM (#38178028)

    Hey you businesses! Any of you want to pay a decent wage for all those vocational/technical jobs you're screaming for?

    (crickets)

    (Hmmm...I wonder if there's a correlation there...)

    Seriously.

    If there's a shortage of qualified people in a field, the answer isn't to "encourage" (read: throw money at) the schools teaching in the field. The answer is for employers to man up, quit whining to the government, and pay the clearing wage.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hadlock (143607) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @10:19PM (#38178542) Homepage Journal

    All those brilliant thinkers were independently wealthy land owners and self financed. They were so far removed from the public education system it completely invalidates whatever your point was supposed to be.

  • Re:Is it that bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mabhatter654 (561290) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @11:05PM (#38178810)

    Exactly, we already see this in China because they managed to weed out a whole generation of girls. They are very firmly in a command economy even if it's not "communist". Most of the Eastern Asian countries have this problem, trying to get masses to conform to what's useful for business right now. Was it Korea or Japan complaining that men's waistlines were requiring too many sizes of pants in stores... that was not "efficient". Health had nothing to do with it.

    This is why the free market works. Each person will go into a career because it pays well, or because they really excel at it and want to be there for less money. In this way there is always a buffer of individuals with skills ready to go for whatever employers need. Never mind that many degrees that don't pay well take years to achieve mastery of. If you stop the degrees now, then in 10 years when the current group of workers retires, you won't have workers with 10 years experience... Although in a command economy they really don't think that way. They think more of hire the best people needed now, then move on...

  • by Travoltus (110240) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:04AM (#38179094) Journal

    Apparently there is no market for people who know history. Which means nobody's taking history as a major and in a few generations we'll have no historians.

    That's a bug, not a feature.

  • You're an idiot (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Travoltus (110240) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:12AM (#38179142) Journal

    Reduce the minimum wage and you'll have more people trying to take 2 and 3 jobs to make ends meet.

    Plus the price of energy will never reduce drastically. Not ever. Which means that when the minimum wage is gone, food transportation costs will drive the price of food out of reach for millions. That means mass starvation and CIVIL WAR.

    No, really, you will not ever show how energy will ever become 10 times cheaper. You will not even show how energy prices will drop even by 10%. Ever. Not happening.

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