A truly liberal education
An education should not merely be measured in jobs and salaries
Lucrative as being The Cavalier Daily’s ombudsman is, this is not my only job.
I write for other publications, produce radio pieces, teach freshman composition and Appalachian literature and edit a business magazine. Sometimes all those things intersect, like when The Cavalier Daily publishes a flurry of articles about higher education and its cost and its effect on income.
One story (“Data comparison study finds new graduates’ salaries vary,” Oct. 17) cited a study that “showed students who graduate from Virginia’s public universities with career-oriented bachelor’s degrees earn more than those with liberal arts degrees.”
As Mr. Bernstein, a friend and employee of Charles Foster Kane, told a reporter, “It’s no trick to make a lot of money, if what you want to do is make a lot of money.”
The study covered only graduates’ first-year incomes, so it may not indicate success over a career. Many presidents of the United States have had liberal arts degrees. At $400,000, the presidential salary is roughly eight times larger than the country’s median household income. On the other hand, according to Forbes, the average yearly pay among chief executives at the country’s 500 largest companies is $10.5 million. So it takes them a little less than two weeks to get what the president earns in a year. That CEO average is a little more than double the average NBA salary; more than five times the average NFL salary; more than 200 times the average salary of a public school teacher in Virginia.
According to The Cavalier Daily story, “[C]areer-oriented degrees, such as information sciences and human resources, earn nearly three times the amount of fine arts and anthropology degrees in one year’s salary.”
The article quotes the report: “From a financial perspective, many [students] made bad decisions about which college to attend, and many more will choose the wrong degrees and majors over the next few years.”
That reminds me of something someone recently told a writer for that business magazine I edit: “…If you are not selecting a major that is in demand by the market, it is not the government’s or the college’s fault, because you selected the wrong major or you don’t want to do a job that is available….”
And then there’s all the debt so many people accumulate during their college careers. According to that study The Cavalier Daily wrote about, “By the time this year’s entering class graduates, many will have borrowed tens of thousands of dollars pursuing degrees that may not give them immediate access to high-paying jobs, and they may struggle for years or even decades to retire those loans.”
If income-to-debt ratio is your measure of a good education, community college might be a good place for you. According to the study, community college graduates “with technical and career-oriented associate’s degrees earn $2,000 more within their first year than the average bachelor’s degree graduate.”
Or maybe welding is a good choice. I found a comprehensive training program that costs $5,525 and lasts just 15 weeks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average welder’s pay in Virginia is roughly $40,000, so with one semester’s training, you could be earning more than some first-year teachers in Virginia earn after four years of study and tuition. You could be education-related debt free after a year and have more than three years’ head start on your career and earnings.
I am not denigrating community colleges or welders. I teach at a community college. I have been paid for welding. But education is supposed to be more than job training. Thomas Jefferson had the idea that what amounted to a liberal arts education is crucial to democracy’s survival. Government, he wrote, tends to degenerate toward tyranny and “the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large….” That illumination, he thought, should come from public schools. ”To instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens, being then the objects of education in the primary schools, whether privet or public, in them should be taught reading, writing and numerical arithmetic, the elements of mensuration … and the outlines of geography and history.”
So education is about more than a job and a job should be about more than work. Ideally, it should not feel like work.
Gene Nervo, who started a business called Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing 21 years ago after spending 33 years in the Marines, recently told a group of people planning to open their own businesses, “If you don’t love it and you don’t look forward to doing it every day, my advice is don’t do it.”
Tim Thornton is the ombudsman of The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.