Posts tagged with: higher ed

Correction: An earlier version of this post did not examine PayScale’s methodology. The three paragraphs that address it were added, and the text has been lightly edited in other places as a result. If the post now reads unevenly, that is why. Short version: I was a bit too hard on Mr. Bump due to my own lack of due diligence. Mea culpa.

At last night’s fourth GOP debate on Fox Business, Florida Senator Marco Rubio lamented, “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” You can watch the full clip from the debate below:

Spirited defenses of philosophy majors were quick to follow this on the internet. Take, for example, Philip Bump of the Wall Street Journal:

Using data from the Web site PayScale, we can look at the introductory and median incomes of both professions. In 2008, philosophy majors started at about $40,000 a year — about the same as what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says first-year welders make.

But over the longer term, philosophy majors make more. Mid-career welders make $22 an hour, according to PayScale, compared with over $80,000 for philosophy majors.

I was a philosophy minor myself, saving my major for just about the only less lucrative option than philosophy: theology. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 19, 2013


Floyd “Money” Mayweather

Over at Think Christian today, I explore the connection between higher education as a means to greater earning power in “The myth of lucrative college majors.” I argue that “the size of a paycheck is not the only factor worth considering,” and go on to detail what a paycheck does and does not represent.

By looking at the earnings of various majors, it becomes apparent that we have a need for more engineers of various kinds. But apart from specific market signals, I echo, in large part, the conclusion of Paul Heyne, who wrote that the success of the market in increasing affluence and getting us the things we want ought to impel us “to think more carefully about what we want.”

The reality of today is that we have a developed economy to the extent that we have unprecedented levels of specialization. You can make a living, even if it isn’t a particularly lucrative one, doing almost anything imaginable. This is in marked contrast to previous eras, where the realities of class, technological innovation, and knowledge were such that only a few careers options were possible. Consider, for instance, the case of the early modern executioner.

One way of showing the incredible levels of specialization made possible today would be to simply observe the many, many things you can major in at a college these days. My working hypothesis is that if you have to add the word “studies” after something, then it probably isn’t a real major. But more seriously, the level of specialized education available today is simply breathtaking. And that doesn’t even begin to address the question of whether higher education is necessary at all.

In the TC piece I point to the example of undefeated boxer and high school dropout Floyd Mayweather Jr., who enjoyed a record breaking payout this past weekend. Mayweather is exceptional, certainly, as he would be the first to tell you. But there are plenty of more mundane examples of crafts and trades, as well as innovators and entrepreneurs, who found success without going to college.

Like all things, there are better and worse reasons to go to college and to choose a particular major. To simply increase your future earnings isn’t a particularly good motivation. And if all you care about is making money, then college may not be the best choice anyway, although as Michael Lewis puts it, “If you’re a certain kind of kid who doesn’t actually know anything about anything, Wall Street is still a great place to go.”

That said, all this comes from someone who majored in English at Michigan State University and then spent more than a decade pursuing theology at the graduate level. So I may be precisely the wrong sort of person to ask about lucrative career choices. As I often remind my wife, she married the wrong kind of doctor.