A piece in USA Today last week about the explosive growth of students earning women's and gender studies degrees had me thinking about how the degrees American students obtain impact the immigration debate. The article states that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of women's and gender studies degrees in the United States has soared by more than 300 percent since 1990, with more than 2,000 degrees conferred in 2015 alone.
Why does it matter what students major in? Because powerful and influential business leaders/H-1B junkies like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and many others use their influence, money, and status to lobby for more guest workers, arguing that they can't find graduates with the skills they need. The problem isn't that Americans aren't pursuing higher education. According to the Census Bureau, just 5 percent of adults had a bachelor's degree in 1940, compared to 33 percent today. And Nearly 1.9 million students earned a bachelor's degree in 2014, compared to just under 1.4 million a decade earlier.
The issue, we're told, is that we don't have enough American students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degrees. Take a look at the numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2014, colleges and universities conferred 84,818 degrees in communications and journalism, but just 55,367 in computer and information sciences. (This despite the fact that journalism is a low paying field and there is a glut of wanna-be journalists.) Only 20,980 students obtained degrees in mathematics and statistics, while 97,246 students brought home degrees in the visual and performing arts; 29,304 students earned degrees in the physical sciences, while 55,401 earned degrees in English language and literature, 173,096 obtained degrees in social sciences and history, 117,298 obtained degrees in psychology, and 46,042 secured degrees in parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies.
As troubling as these numbers are, remember that the statisticians don't separate out foreign students. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there were 4.1 million foreign students studying in U.S. colleges in 2013. China was the top country of origin, representing 31 percent of all foreign students, and India was second at 14 percent. And Asian students aren't coming here to study philosophy, parks and recreation, or gender studies; 44 percent are majoring in STEM fields, while only 6 percent major in fine arts, and just 2 percent major in the humanities.
So how should we bully young people into majoring in the subjects that employers are demanding? Perhaps we should provide taxpayer-financed therapy dogs and stress-relieving safe spaces with Play Doh and coloring books to anyone who majors in the STEM fields? We could encourage colleges to schedule cry-ins for those grappling with statistical thermodynamics and abstract algebra, or provide trigger warnings for students who are likely to encounter potentially upsetting Euclidean geometry or offensive partial differential equations.
Or maybe we should be really tough and organize some kind of mass humiliation exercise for anyone majoring in cannabis cultivation (Oaksterdam University), sexuality studies (San Francisco State University), Canadian studies (several colleges), bowling industry management (Vincennes University), the puppet arts (UConn) and so on? Well, not so fast. It's a free country folks! If people want to go broke pursuing a degree in bowling alley management because they're just so eager to learn more about this compelling field, then let them. If they end up in the gutter, they'll find a way out if they're resourceful enough.
While it may be in vogue to write off Millennials as a generation of snowflakes who need to be dragooned into studying something "useful," I don't blame students for studying what they're interested in. Way back in 1989, at 16, I had to decide whether I would apply to Villanova University's School of Business or their College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. When I told my parents I was going to apply to the latter, and major in history, they were adamant that I alter my plans and study business. I did as I was told but, all these years later, I'm not convinced my career would have suffered if I had majored in history, a subject I was far more interested in.
Sure, there are plenty of ivory tower degree programs that have no relevance to the U.S. job market. And colleges are already overpriced, so students need to think long and hard about what degree they pursue.
But the pursuit of knowledge is a noble one, and I think that studying something you have no interest in is a surefire way to ruin your college experience, which should be the best time of one's life. A good college or university will teach a student how to think critically and solve problems, no matter what their major is.
And so, rather than scapegoat the gender studies and art history majors, perhaps we should be asking tech CEOs to rethink how they view American higher education. The H-1B junkies seem to think that colleges should serve as their free training centers. They seem to believe that graduates should be able to walk right into jobs at their companies with no training whatsoever.
There are at least 240 million adults in the United States, including more than 43 million immigrants. If this labor pool isn't big enough for tech companies to draw upon, perhaps they need to consider hiring smart college graduates — sure, even some jazz studies and golf course management majors — and provide them with the training they need to succeed.
The fact that they prefer to have the whole planet (and perhaps other galaxies as well, if we discover inhabited ones) as their potential labor force doesn't mean that it's fair or rational to force Americans to compete with the whole world for job openings in our country. It's high time we use immigration policy to do what's best for American workers, not what is cheapest and easiest for tech companies. So let's abolish the H-1B program, and instead of sending low cost guest workers to the tech companies, let's send therapy dogs to Gates, Zuckerberg, and all the other H-1b junkies so they have someone to comfort them at the corporate cry-ins that are sure to follow the implementation of this plan.