As colleges and universities across the country face lower enrollment rates and soaring costs due to inflation, many have taken steps to reduce their spending by cutting certain majors and areas of study. For example, last year, the University of Alaska cut programs including sociology, creative writing, and environmental science.
Since many of the degree programs on the chopping block are within the liberal arts, which stereotypically do not lead to high-paying careers, we wanted to find out if Americans agree that low-paying degree programs should be eliminated.
Our survey of 1,500 respondents revealed that:
- 51% of Americans agree that public colleges should stop offering degree programs that lead to low-paying jobs
- 4 in 10 say students in programs that lead to low-paying jobs shouldn’t qualify for federal financial aid
- Gender studies, art history, religious studies, and ethnic studies are among the degree programs Americans would most like to see eliminated
More Than Half of Americans Say Public Colleges Should Stop Offering Degrees That Lead to Low-Paying Jobs
Twenty-five percent of respondents said that they believe public colleges should stop offering all low-paying degrees, while 26% would like them to stop offering some low-paying degrees. Gender studies (38%), art history (30%), religious studies (20%), and ethnic studies (19%) were at the top of respondents’ lists of degrees they’d like to see colleges stop offering.
There are just a few areas of study that Americans agree are necessary, even if they do lead to low-paying jobs. The degrees that the fewest number of respondents chose to eliminate included teaching (5%), psychology (5%), and social work (7%).
Proponents Say These Degrees Are a Waste of Students’ Money
When asked why they agree that colleges should stop offering certain degree programs, the top answer given was that they are a waste of students’ money. Write-in responses included sentiments such as “Cost of living,” “They charge too much for these degrees,” and “With today’s increasing inflation, higher paying degrees are necessary in order to survive”.
Those Against Eliminating Degrees Say Students Should Have the Freedom to Choose
Of the 49% of Americans who do not agree that colleges should eliminate low-paying degrees, the top reason given was that students should have the freedom to choose what they study.
43% Believe Students in Low-Paying Degree Programs Shouldn’t Get Federal Financial Aid
More than 4 in 10 respondents agree in most or all cases that students in low-paying degree programs shouldn’t qualify for federal financial aid. 54% of this group say this is because these students are unlikely to repay any loans they receive, and 50% say it’s a waste of federal dollars.
The top degree programs respondents would like to see eliminated from federal financial aid are again gender studies (32%), art history (23%), ethnic studies (20%), religious studies (18%), and classics (18%).
Both Political Parties in Favor of Eliminating Low-Paying Degrees
Interestingly enough, this seems to be an issue on which people from both sides of the political spectrum can agree. There were no notable differences in opinion on eliminating low-paying degrees or removing access to federal financial aid when looking at respondents identifying as Republicans vs Democrats.
An Expert’s Take on Low-Value Degrees
Professor and higher education consultant, Diane Gayeski, offers her view of so-called “low-value” degrees: “The question about how degrees lead to various job outcomes is quite complex, especially at the undergraduate level. The purpose of most bachelor’s degrees is primarily to teach students how to learn and think in a particular way based on a discipline.
“While many degrees certainly do lead to specific job outcomes, an undergraduate degree is aimed at building more general skills and perspectives that lead students to be better able to pursue work, think critically, and also to be prepared to be engaged and informed citizens who can appreciate the breadth of the world that will unfold around them.
“When I was a dean, in my welcome message to incoming first-year students, I told them the purpose of college was to enable them to have fun. That got their attention! And by that I meant that the collection of experiences would help them be prepared for work that they’d find satisfying and sustainable, and to enjoy the many pleasures of life.
“If they studied art history and Italian, they’d have a much better time if they got to go on a business trip to Italy some day. If they took courses in sociology and politics, they’d understand the news and be able to use their influence to impact their communities. If they took courses in finance, they might be better able to leverage their savings to afford a better lifestyle.
“Surprisingly enough, many of the majors that people scoff at are those that prepare individuals for the most influential and highest-paying jobs. The best majors to prepare someone for law school are English, history, philosophy, and political science. One of my college’s most successful alums was an art history major whose skills in curation and historically inspired designs led to her being the VP for marketing and product innovation for an internationally famous boutique home goods company.
“There are real ethical problems with eliminating majors that lead to ‘low paying’ jobs. Who will become our next kindergarten teachers, social workers, or medical technicians?
“We need to re-frame the way we think about college education as a path to the rest of one’s life. It’s not the bullet train that takes you from one destination to the next quickly and cheaply. That train has a very limited purpose and once you get to that first destination, what’s left? Rather, we should view an undergraduate degree as a well-stocked backpack with tools that can be pulled out and implemented so that many different circumstances can be accommodated with ease and pleasure,” Gayeski finishes.
This survey was commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish from September 12 to September 13, 2022. In total, 1,500 participants in the U.S. were surveyed. All participants had to pass through screening filters to ensure they met quality standards. For full survey results, please contact [email protected].