Kathy Kristof recently wrote in Forbes (H/T) that a college education, for many people, does not pay off its cost. I can certainly understand: I went to a rather pricey liberal arts college and it is only now starting to pay off with a salary really commensurate with the tuition cost and lost income for four years there.
But Kristof went a step further and argued that college education is a scam perpetrated by the education industry to encourage young people to incur huge debts that will not be paid off by subsequent income:
The two disillusioned attorneys were victims of an unfolding education hoax on the middle class that's just as insidious, and nearly as sweeping, as the housing debacle. The ingredients are strikingly similar, too: Misguided easy-money policies that are encouraging the masses to go into debt; a self-serving establishment trading in half-truths that exaggerate the value of its product; plus a Wall Street money machine dabbling in outright fraud as it foists unaffordable debt on the most vulnerable marks.
I'm inclined to accept Hanlon's Razor on this one, especially as I've seen how groupthink can operate within an organization, wherein salespeople can start to really believe that their product is essential for the prospective customer. As for my own case, I knew, going into my history major, that job prospects would be challenging, but did it anyway. I blame no one for my decision but myself, although I would now choose a career based upon financial return, rather than personal interest.
But I'm glad that even in college I had some connection with market realities, as well as lacked the money necessary to attempt something really foolish. Namely, go to graduate school and become a medieval historian. That was my dream, back in the day. English professor Thomas Benton wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education (H/T) that it is exceedingly risky, if not foolish, to acquire doctoral degrees in the humanities:
Most undergraduates don't realize that there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary (though it is generally much lower than salaries in other fields requiring as many years of training). They don't know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don't make any fallback plans until it is too late.
Some people make it into academia. Good for them. But the risks are so very, very high, that anyone studying the humanities -- at the graduate or undergraduate levels -- should be fully aware of the real hazards of choosing personal interests over marketability.