Sunday, January 14, 2018

Study: Students Leave Hard Majors. No Kidding!



By Professor Doom

     I’ve seen it far more times than I can count: a kid walks onto campus, picks a tough STEM major like Engineering, then, after seeing he can’t cut it there, switches over to something less challenging (but still hard) like Chemistry or Pre-Med. Then after flunking those classes, changes major again and again, until finally getting a degree in Theatre or African Studies or Gender Studies or well, something not exactly associated with high difficulty…or pay.

     I suppose this sort of thing has always happened, but I worry that today’s “take a huge loan for a college degree” system of education is creating far more victims of higher education than there used to be. Toss in those endless “if you’re female, we’ll give you extra to go into STEM because males and females are the same” programs and it only adds to the issues here as I’ve seen many females caught in this trap due to those programs.

     Changing your major adds a year, or two, or even three to your degree programs. Even if you don’t fail your classes, your new major probably won’t even accept the old major’s courses except as electives…an extra few years taken to get a degree can easily add up to another $100,000 to the cost of the degree once loans, interest on loans, and lost income are factored in.

      Anyway, I’ve seen students downgrade their degree many times, so I don’t really need a study to tell me what I already know: students who major in African Studies on day 1 of college generally don’t switch over to Engineering nearly as often as the other way around.

       All that said, I want to talk a bit about a study showing the obvious, because it reveals some things less obvious:



      I won’t crow much about my own discipline being the one most likely to chase away students, it’s well known, and I like job security. In several ways, mathematics is actually an easy discipline: you don’t have to write papers, reading assignments are a few pages at most, and you usually don’t even have homework. All you need to do in mathematics is understand…if you don’t understand what’s being said in the courses, you change your major. I always felt bad for my friends in other degree programs, spending hours in lab work or writing extensive papers or other unpleasant things, where all I ever had to do was actually follow the conversations my professors would (attempt to) have with me.

     …students who started out in mathematics and the natural sciences are likelier than others to switch fields,

--seriously, who didn’t know this already?


      Around 33% of all students change their major at least once. It’s more like 52% for those who start in math. What’s funny about this study is the author is puzzled at the bleeding obvious:

What does it mean that math majors are likelier to leave their major than students in other fields? Given the marketplace demand for math majors (and students in other STEM fields), is it a problem that STEM majors are abandoning their majors at a greater rate than other students are?


     It really is sad that we as a people are so ignorant of basic economics that there’s a question of how it can be that the most profitable fields are also the ones people are least likely to be able to do. It’s a pretty big reveal that this question is being asked, because it displays the common ignorance so well.

     An educationist in our government is wheeled in to address this “problem:”

Given employers' strong demand for math majors and other students with strong quantitative skills, and by extension the desire among students to pursue such majors, it's essential that educators seek ways to make those fields less off-putting to students -- and not by reducing rigor, Venit said.

--emphasis added


     It’s so laughable that they can be so puzzled by the concept that “rare skills tend to be more valuable” that they think the issue is the subject matter is, and I chuckled when I read it, “off-putting.”

     Yeah, that’s the problem. They’re probably also puzzled why plumbers make so much, and have no idea working with raw sewage is off-putting, too.

     I reckon everyone who has seen a great pianist or incredible singer perform has thought “gee, I could do that, too, except it’s so off-putting.” Where’s the great push to make courses in singing or piano more accessible?

     Professional basketball players make great money…why is there no push to make the game less “off-putting.” You, gentle reader, need to realize this is how utterly lost our government-sponsored Educationists are when it comes to understanding of how the world works, and should keep this in mind before subjecting your children to government-style education.

       For all my amusement at their confusion and ignorance here, something is said that is very relevant:

Colleges and universities also should strive, Venit said, to create desirable "off-ramps" for students who get waylaid from their original academic goal...


     Our higher education system really does need to be more able to have students change their major, there’s simply too much money involved not to provide better options for students who want to change.

     Thing is, this problem has been well known for decades…and still nothing has been done. It’s basically unsolvable, and allow me to explain why:

     Students are paying ridiculous amounts of money to get their degree, and as long as those dollar signs are there, students are going to go for the degrees most likely to pay back the cost of getting a degree…and they’re always going to want to take the shortest path to get that well-paying degree.

     Let’s take that previous paragraph as axiomatic: just assume it’s all true.

     Any “off-ramp” path, will, obviously, be slower than a student taking a direct path—we already have those off-ramps, that’s how students can put two years into one degree, change degree, and not necessarily be two years behind…a student could optimize their off-ramp path, but any such optimization will mean they’re not taking the shortest possible path.

     Bottom line: if you spend three years studying to be an astrophysicist, and then decide you want to herd goats instead, the only way you won’t have wasted 3 years of your life is if some of those courses you took for astrophysics actually have material equally useful for goatherding…and you wouldn’t take those courses because those courses (eg, Gender Studies) are just as useless for astrophysics…you won’t take such courses because you were taking the shortest possible path to your astrophysics degree.

     The only solution here is to destroy one of the axioms, the part about “ridiculous amounts of money.” There really was a time when higher education was cheap, and that time was before the student loan scam. We need to get rid of that, and then we won’t have people spending the rest of their lives in debt slavery for making a very common mistake when they were 18 years old: picking an inappropriate major.