Towards the Pursuit of Knowledge

The Huffington Post ran a piece recently on a growing trend working to conflate a college education with a salary. Now, let’s ignore the cynical debates about how money always runs the show for just a second. Hunter Rawlings and Lillian Aoki, both from the Association of American Universities, note that governors from at least five states have pushed the message that only programs that guarantee sizeable financial rewards should be supported via rhetoric and/or state funding. The authors conclude that doing so “[reduces] the value of an education to a single number.” And they are absolutely right. As we educate children during their formative years, we aren’t asking them to think about what path yields them the most money. We are encouraging them to sign on to a life dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. In deciding to promote only the majors that translate to a high salary, these governors are demonstrating that the student’s choice matters little. In these governors’ worlds, who determines which majors are deemed “acceptable”?

Rawlings and Aoki go on to say this:

“In pursuit of a diploma, students may study anything from archaeology to zoology; they not only absorb material but they learn how to learn. University campuses are filled with rigorous thinkers, great works of art and literature, ground-breaking scientific laboratories, and a vast array of engaging cultural activities. In this challenging and inspiring environment, students develop the habits of mind that will enable them to make lasting contributions to our democratic society, as well as the workplace. More than ever before, self-government depends on a well-educated citizenry capable of making difficult choices on complex issues. Today’s students are preparing themselves as tomorrow’s citizens. Likewise, the workplace increasingly requires an ability to deal with complex problems — an ability that a university education fosters.”

My degree is in English literature. I read a lot. I took classes in other departments like sociology, psychology, political science, philosophy and cultural studies. I read some more. In my younger years in school, I loved reading and engaging in conversations with my fellow students about history, social movements and the novel du jour. I knew that was what I wanted to continue doing in college. And I continue to do so now (though one can’t always go around rhapsodizing about their latest literary obsession). Getting an education is about learning, not making money. It’s a simple solution to figuring out a complex world.



  1. Of course I agree with you, as a liberal arts major myself. But I wish “they” were a little more honest about what the takeaway was for each major. Yeah, it’s all good to major in some esoteric subject or take fun classes, but at the end of the end of the day a college education is an investment. If a person weighs the outcomes and determine that a wide knowledge of art history or literature or philosophy yields the best ROI for them, then by all means they should take it. But I wish more people gave the decision more thought, including myself.
    This is of course not suggesting that what you major in defines the rest of your life.

    1. I think those are all solid points, though an investment doesn’t have to be financial. There’s also investments of time and effort. Hopefully there are greater takeaways to going to college than finding a high-paying job, like new modes of thinking, new friendships, new connections, etc.

  2. Pardon the typos, please. iPhone commenting is probably not the best idea.

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