Wealthy vs. Wise? Education’s Senseless Divide

Wealthy vs. Wise? Education's Senseless Divide

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I am passionate about education of all kinds.

At my liberal arts college, I was in everything from the classics honorary to the orchestra to the political economy club.

But I also love learning about cutting-edge techniques in business — that’s why I have two graduate diplomas from top-tier business schools, and why I’ve taken dozens of courses on Lynda.com.

With an education that spans, as I say, “from Chaucer to Clusters,” I have a balanced opinion on the meaning of education. Is it to build a career, or to become a better person?

Does majoring in music condemn you to become a starving artist? Petroleum engineering to a money-grubbing doofus?

Can a college education make you either wealthy or wise, and not both? 

Here’s how to navigate this divide — and why ultimately it is meaningless.

You need to provide value to others.

Young people are often accused of having a sense of entitlement. Nowhere is this more true than the labor market.

Many college graduates have nothing to provide employers. They assume that a college diploma magically becomes a paycheck.

This is just not true. Employers need to gain something in exchange for that wage.

If you looked at college as a business transaction, you’re better off here. A computer science major will have more “shovel ready” skills than a history major. 

But I’m not sure that’s a fair way to end the comparison.

But you need to be interesting, too.

A vocationally-charged degree means you’ve got something to offer employers. But a strict STEM degree, for example, has shortcomings on a liberal arts curriculum.

As a liberal arts graduate, I am an heir to a rich intellectual tradition, not just another job-hungry science dork. A classical education teaches what it means to be human — to create, ponder, marvel. Vocational training does not engage the imagination and the soul like this.

My involvement in a local orchestra, an essay on my neighborhood being published in a Cleveland guidebook — I attribute this creativity to my liberal arts degree.

And it’s not just a creative outlet — it has grown my network and kept me from stagnating with a sole focus on career.

There’s this thing called summers… 

So, you need some hard skills for that first job — but you want a soul, too? How to balance in an increasingly divided college campus?

Ever heard of summers? Use your time away from campus to balance your skill set.

Liberal arts majors — find an internship. You will be stunned to learn how different office life is from college life. No papers, but a heck of a lot of spreadsheets.

It may also make you think twice about quitting the flute, too, after seeing how routine and stressful office life can be.

If you can’t find anywhere to intern, it might be that you are just so deficient in technical skills that you can’t even get into an office for free! In that case, take some online classes from Lynda.com or Udemy. 

 I would highly recommend learning Microsoft Excel, and not just because you should subscribe to my blog to learn about it!

 STEM/vocational majors –– do something creative. Read something unrelated to your major. Start a blog. Go to concerts or lectures. Ask your professors if you can interview them for a podcast. Do something that gets you creating.

Don’t be afraid to do things that “aren’t practical.” You never know what subject will revolutionize your industry. Steve Jobs and calligraphy, anyone?

Ride the long tail.

I’ve argued that the bridge between a classical education and the liberal arts isn’t so far. But the debate rages on.

This distinction is senseless in light of the networked information economy. The internet lets people earn a living off nearly anything, so long as they are knowledgeable and passionate. The ability to build a career this way obliterates the distinction between “practical” vs. “creative” degrees.

Low search and transaction costs make targeting the “long tail” lucrative. This low-volume, high-trust exchange is perfect for those “impractical” majors. 

I believe a huge market exists for the knowledge of passionate, well-rounded students. Each year hundreds of thousands of accounting majors graduate, yet just dozens of classics majors. (This goes for many disciplines in the sciences, too, although not quite to the same degree.) Oddly enough, the classics majors have one-upped the business students on a key to success in today’s economy: “the niches are in the riches.”

What if those classics majors could find a niche online, offering classes or webinars?  Surely there’s a spot on the long tail for them?

Whether you majored in nanobiology or drama, there’s a tribe waiting for you online.

Now passion and community trumps “practicality.”

Further Reading:

“From Chaucer to Clusters: Data Analytics for Liberal Arts Grads”

“The End of College and the Future for Analysts”

“In Defense of Long-Tail Majors”

Read more and subscribe at georgejmount.com

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