Rethinking College Majors

This "opposite sides of the same coin" situation has me thinking: maybe universities should move away from the idea of majors and minors, as they are traditionally conceived. After all, the system only seems to be working well for a relatively small and specific subset of college graduates with highly specialized degrees. Students who go down the liberal arts road often find themselves on the fast rack to a u-turn: a first class degree and nowhere to use it.

One alternative that would speak to both the malaise of the English major and the social limits of the STEM student would be for universities to move toward a course structure that allows, say, 3-5 areas of serious focus -- a multi-major, if you will. Instead of trying to achieve some vague ideal of well-roundedness through general education requirements, students would choose 2-3 focus areas in the humanities and 2-3 in STEM. The ratio should be up to the student, allowing her to become a top-notch engineer, if that's her goal, but also instilling the writing and critical thinking skills that will allow her to communicate effectively or switch careers, if that's what she ends up wanting to do.

In a society where a more technical skill set has become important even in many of the most left-brained jobs, where more and more people switch careers, and where fewer and fewer have illusions that college is sufficient preparation for the "real world," perhaps this sort of multi-focus structure would be better suited to developing students who can meet the demands -- both present and future -- of a complex economy.

Let me just say that I'm the first person to sign up for classes like Literature of the Outlaw, 19th century English Literature, and Creative Writing (yeah, I took all of those), but my job and this current economic situation has really forced me to confront the fact that, as much as I or anyone else might want to, no one can hide from math and science these days. Maybe it's a little authoritarian of me, but institutions dedicated to higher learning and higher tuition(!), have the ability and the responsibilty to confront students with the realities of the job market they will enter while they are still in school, not after. A new way of structuring college education could be the solution.

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