Should universities restrict degrees in professions with few job prospects?

In the last week here, both the major media corporations in Australia (News Limited andFairfax) have announced major restructures of their operations. Lots of redundancies are being forecast (as in, thousands over the next few years) and there’s a lot of people asking questions about the future of the media in this country as a result.

As it is, there’s been a massive oversupply of journalism graduates for some years. There simply aren’t a huge number of actual journalism jobs in this country available each year, but thousands of people graduate with journalism degrees when the number of jobs available is in the low hundreds, from what I know.

So today’s brouhaha got me thinking: It seems to me that universities are doing a disservice to their students by having professional degree courses with large numbers of students in them, when it’s fairly obvious there aren’t enough jobs at the other end for them to go to when they graduate.

Let me stress: I’m not at all opposed to learning for the sake of pure knowledge. I think it’s something which should be encouraged. But professional degrees are a different thing - everyone knows the reason (most) people study them is to get a job in that field. Sure, I think most people are aware there’s a limited market for archaeologists and if you’re studying that it’s because you really like the past, but the average person studying a Civil Engineering degree (for example) isn’t doing it because they’re going to become a lumberjack after they graduate.

Further, I’m not saying that universities should be saying “We’re not going to let you study this subject”, either- but I think it should be made abundantly clear to prospective students something like “There are substantially fewer jobs in this profession than there are graduates each year. The likelihood you will get a job in this profession after completing your degree is low/practically non-existent. You should consider your reasons for wanting to undertake this degree and if it is the right choice for you, taking into account your goals and circumstances.”

I’m not such an idealist that I know the reason this doesn’t happen is simple: Money. But ethically, at least, I’d like to think a university planning on charging a student thousands of dollars for a degree course has at least some duty to tell them “You realise there’s 1,000 people studying this degree and maybe 50 jobs nationally in this field, right?”

Although the focus of this OP has been journalism, I think the overall discussion applies to pretty much any professional field where there’s a lot of graduates and not many jobs - I’m told accounting has becoming increasingly competitive, for example.

So… thoughts?

I don’t think a university is going to undermine the confidence of their degree program. Telling students “there’s virtually no chance you’ll get a job” is like saying “our school isn’t good enough for our degree to be worth enough ethos to increase your job prospects.” Every university wants students to THINK their degree will get them a job, not just for money, but because I also think that it will scare away GOOD students. The fuck-arounds usually don’t care enough to switch to a harder field (though it may shuffle them around to a similarly job-market worthless degree prospect, say from Journalism to Philosophy), but the good students might reconsider their prospects, which undermines the degree even more since the average student quality in that field will drop.

Sure, there will always be a few insanely dedicated brilliant students absolutely dedicated to Journalism, but I think scaring away the students who care enough about their future to switch will undermine the quality of the program in general.

Granted, the quality of the program doesn’t matter if they’re not getting hired. Still, I think colleges admitting it could have bad effects as well.

Good point-what about law? Law schools keep expanding-yet, there seem to be a few jobs for graduates.
I suspect most Law School graduates wind up working in other fields.

So, you think these students are intelligent enough to attend a university, but are not bright enough to realize something that is “fairly obvious”?

It’s not that hard to get into uni here (depending what you want to study, of course) and by “fairly obvious” I mean “fairly obvious to people involved in that industry”, as opposed to “fairly obvious to the average high school leaver”.

I think universities should be honest. But I know that if you had told me, upon entering graduate school, that I had a slim chance of getting a job in biology after graduation, that would not have deterred me since my prospects of getting a job with an undergraduate degree weren’t good either. At that point, I had already invested time and money in becoming a biologist. I was too late for an intervention.

It would be better for universities to make sure that their students know about all the varied careers they can do with their degree so that they aren’t all clamoring for the same jobs after graduation.

Also, I think people intellectually know that there’s going to be steep competition, but emotionally they don’t see themselves “losing”. It’s always the other guy who’s not going to get a job, not you–who has been praised your whole life for being teh gifted smarty pants. If you just work hard enough and take advantage of opportunities, you will become the star you want to be. Arrogant or not, that is the mindset that many people have. And the thing is, that attitude DOES help you defy the odds. If I had listened to my TA in BIO 101 and dropped out of my program because of a rough first start, I would not have the career I have now.

I think it’s in a university’s best interest to be responsive to demand. But they should have discretion in deciding what pool of demand to serve. The business sector? Or the students?

But then you are saying that your high school graduates do not research anything about their intended course of study and future lively hood?

Why not leave it caveat emptor and possibly present the job data for various fields during highschool?

Wow, that is some serendipity - I was just thinking of starting this very thread yesterday after stumbling upon this spread on college graduates who ended up in dead end jobs - psychology majors street sweepers, law degree holders working a fruit stand, post-grads turned baby-sitters, that sort of thing. Heartbreaking stuff.

That’s a good point, monstro, but also take to heart that Grad school is a different beast from undergrad. With grad school you already presumably have some sort of prospective education invested in the field you’re going into. Yeah, some people change tracks between undergrad and grad quite drastically, but it’s nowhere near as much of a wild west as undergrad where half the people don’t even know whether they even want to do science or humanities when they’re fulfilling their gen ed requirements.

However… I think the undergrads would be even LESS likely to listen. Most of them just want the piece of paper and don’t care what field they get a job in. A disturbing number of college students truly believe that their English degree will magically make them earn a lot of money – even if they don’t get a job in an English related field. The people who just want to make money are probably ALREADY in Computer Science or Engineering (etc), and the people who are gung-ho about their Archaeology degree probably just loved archaeology since they were 10 years old and would be devastated if they couldn’t major in it (and to be fair, these ones are the ones that are probably most likely to get a job anyway). I don’t think anybody would really gain much by universities informing students how unlikely it is they’ll get a job in their field.

In many cases, yes. A lot of school leavers nowadays, so I’m reliably informed, have the notion they’ll “go and get a job in the mines” straight out of high school and be earning $80k a year to drive the water truck. It’s not until they try and obtain said mining job they discover that it doesn’t work like that.

I can’t speak for every single high school graduate in the antipodes, but I do know that a vast number (half? a third? It’s a lot, anyway) change their degree or major in the first year of study. I was one of them - the course I was studying was radically unlike what I expected and I switched to something else.

Caveat Emptor is fine when you’re talking about buying a second hand stereo from a garage sale for $50. It’s quite another thing when you’re talking about a $10,000+ degree which is being undertaken solely so you can become a lion tamer majoring in accounting.

And I agree the job data should be presented in high school - but there should also be that reinforcement at uni that "studying this degree does not guarantee you a job in this profession, although Jragon has made some good points about why that’s never likely to happen.

If people are paying for their own education let them study what they wish, if it is a government grant/loan subsidizing the education (I’m in the UK), then let it be a degree of value to society.

Yet another attempt to manage the economy. I hate to have to remind you of this, but failure is good for the economy. If nobody ever fails, then there isn’t much incentive to excel. You might as well suggest that it would be a good thing to restrict the number of certain types of shoes that are made or the colors of cars. It works on the same principle.

I think the best advice is: Do what you love and the money will follow. Trying to manage the passion of young people is a good way to ensure stagnation. Besides, what are parents for? :wink:

Restricting entry into journalism programs might make sense if journalism graduates were completely unemployable outside of traditional journalist positions. But that’s simply not the case, so it’d be a bit silly at best.

What’s really happening here is that a certain degree program is losing the well-defined career path that used to be attached to it. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that its graduates will be unemployable, or that the skills it teaches are not valuable. The curriculum should probably be adapted in some way, but that’s an issue for the experts, not us.

You don’t have to go into journalism just because you have a degree in journalism. I worked at a place where our P/R representative had a degree in journalism. Most people who major in history do not go on to become historians or work anywhere near the history field. College should not be confused with a trade school. At least not undergraduate work.

When I was in high school, I was valedictorian. I had perfect SAT’s, tons of awards, lots of college acceptances, etc. Even then, I felt like I had been lied to for years and I had no idea what the real world would be like after graduation.

I really wish someone would have taken me aside to give me fair warning, because I am honestly pissed off that everything was so heavily sugarcoated. Work hard, study hard, go to college, get a fantastic job… it’s not necessarily so. Working/studying hard doesn’t guarantee you a job, and coming from a rich/poor family has more of an impact than is let on.

The problem is that even with realistic stats on how your college major fares in terms of employment, it doesn’t deter hubris. “I’m still better than the average,” “I’ll get the job and they won’t,” “Taking on all those loans, no big deal – I’ll make a ton of money down the line and worry about it later” – these are all thoughts that too many students have. Unfortunately, many people DO lose, DON’T get the job, and DON’T get the income they thought they would and take on more debt than they knew how to handle.

In general I think it’s largely a problem of not being financially-educated until, well, it’s too late. Colleges holding back degrees isn’t the answer.

One word:


Sorry, I’m not following what you mean by that, haha.

I came in here to pretty much say this. If you have your own money to spend then sure, get that degree in French Literature or Renaiassance Art that you’ve always wanted. If I, the taxpayer, am subsidizing your education, then please get something that will help the country’s economy (the US, in my case).

It’s the new “plastics”.

Ahhh, memories of “The Graduate” here too ;-;