This year will be my 5 year reunion for college and while checking the Luther website for Homecoming information, I took a glance at the tuition costs for next year. And even though I knew college tuitions have been skyrocketing, I was still shocked by the number: $32,140 That’s over $10,000 more than when I started there in 2001.
Granted, most students don’t pay nearly full tuition. (I definitely didn’t!) My college has tons of scholarships and merit awards, and tries to make going there as affordable as possible. BUT $32,140 is still a lot of money! And it’s not even close to the worst. In fact, Luther didn’t even make the list of the top 100 most expensive colleges in the US. The most expensive colleges, Bates College, Middlebury College, Colby College, Union College (NY), Connecticut College and George Washington University all charged students over 40,000 last year… not including room or board!
Even public universities are skyrocketing in price. Tuition is shooting up 15% at a time, adding thousands to the price of a degree.
Learning what can be applied
What really bothers me about the sky-high tuition is that so many grads are struggling to take what they learned in college and use it how to get the job they want. Students who graduate with marketing or business degrees at least have the advantage that their major directly correlates to what they want to do. English majors and other liberal arts majors who want to work as professionals do not.
I can’t tell you how many English majors I’ve talked to are struggling to get a good job in this economy. And it makes me really mad to hear that.
When I studied how the American workforce is changing for my masters degree, I learned that employers don’t really care what major their potential college-educated employee studied. It’s much more important to them that job seekers are able to communicate well, manage their time, work well with others and be creative. All those are skills that anyone in any major can develop. English majors especially should be able to excel in communicating.
Do colleges fail to help students connect the dots?
So then why are they struggling? I think it’s because (despite their claims and high sticker prices) colleges fail to teach students to talk about how the things they learned in their college major prepared them for success in work and life.
I’m a prime example. I studied one of the least practical majors at my college: Classical Languages. I learned 5th century BC Attic Greek and Latin. I read Homer and Caesar and Herodotus. I spent hours learning languages I’ll never speak in my life. If I went to Greece, I wouldn’t even be able to ask for directions to the bathroom—that’s how useless my college degree is!
If I were a normal person and was asked about my major, I’d simply tell people: “I studied ancient Greek and Latin.” Then they’d ask what I was planning to use that for, and I’d say “Nothing.” Then they’d dismiss me not only as someone without desirable skills, but also as someone impractical who didn’t consider her future when she was picking her college major.
Luckily, I’m not normal. My mother’s an entrepreneur who has been teaching me how to promote myself since I was 9 years old. And, when I was in college, I had the fantastic luck to go to a conference where I heard a speech by Peggy Klaus, the “Brag Lady”, who teaches people how to “toot your horn without blowing it.” So I knew from the start that when I talk about my college major, I need to help people understand why it was such a great choice for me.
So when I say I studied Classical Languages, I tell people that I loved studying ancient Greek because it’s incredibly challenging — we learned as much in 2 semesters of Greek as I learned in 5 years of Spanish–and because it pushed me to work harder in school than I’d ever had in my life. I also tell them that I found the basic business and communications classes at my college to be boring, and that I learned a lot more about business by taking the upper level classes and reading the top business books. (Which I could happily discuss in detail.)
I’ve never had a problem communicating how valuable it was to me to study Ancient Greek. It’s even been an advantage for me, because it makes me stand out and gives me a chance to engage the person interviewing me in a story.
Failing at connecting
But I know it’s different for a lot of my friends. They don’t know how to talk about their major in a way that makes business sense. They don’t even understand how a Classical Languages background, or an English Literature background translates into the very job skills that employers need. They’ve never learned to make that connection.
I’m not one of those people who think colleges should tone down the ‘impractical’ majors and focus on teaching specific job skills to students. There are far too many advantages to pursuing a subject that interests you–both for employees and employers. Companies run out of ideas and stagnate if all their employees have the same background. And, the business world changes so quickly that it’s almost impractical for colleges to focus on teaching only business skills. The textbooks won’t even be published before they’re obsolete.
Helpful courses on selling yourself
What I do think, however, is that colleges need to start teaching their students to sell themselves. Students need to learn how to talk-up their skills and abilities. They need to be able to explain how spending a semester studying Spanish in a third world country translates into desirable traits for an employer. They need to learn how to brand themselves not as the “impractical English major” but as someone who really understands communicating and how to write well. (Another trait that employers look for.)
For an education “worth” over $100 thousand dollars, colleges should send out graduates who know how to leverage their degree to be successful. It’s not enough to simply educate them in whatever field they choose. It’s not enough to show students where to find the Career Councilors–especially since most students won’t take advantage of it. And for $100 thousand dollars, colleges shouldn’t make it the student’s responsibility to discover how their degree applies to the real world.
Katie Konrath writes about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped!” at www.getFreshMinds.com.