When university education began many centuries ago, selecting a course of study meant choosing whether you wanted to study law, theology, or medicine. Even in more recent history, program offerings were fairly limited. For example, when Colorado State University began in 1870, students could choose from Arithmetic, English, Natural Philosophy, U.S. History, Horticulture and Farm Economy.
A lot has changed in the last century and a half, and choosing a degree today means facing an overwhelming array of hundreds of programs. The situation is especially complex for graduate students, with degrees available in even the most obscure disciplines. Along with several variations on themes of science, languages, arts and humanities, we’ve also seen a rise in highly specialized, career-oriented degrees like tourism management, computer science and student affairs in higher education.
Given the current economic climate, perhaps it isn’t surprising that these more practical options are swiftly gaining popularity. Students today are worrying about finding a job before they even start a degree program, and are therefore more likely to pick a degree that, as much as possible, “guarantees” them a route to a job. Distinguished, but rather vague subjects like English literature might be overlooked in favor of healthcare administration or accounting.
This trend suggests good news for America’s workforce. The surge in students pursuing career-oriented degrees comes alongside a rise in college enrollment in general, after twenty years of slow growth in college completion. The New York Times reports that in 2012, 33.5% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 had at least a B.A., which can be compared favorably with only 24.7% in 1995.
The article also makes the point that career-oriented degrees may be popular at the moment because colleges have noticed a surge in admissions from students going back to school to shelter from the harsh job market. Many of these students are looking to learn new skills to help them before they return to the job hunt. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why a career-oriented course of study might win out over a traditional subject without a clear end goal.
For certain degrees, the facts speak for themselves. The global tourism industry has seen incredible progress over the past few years, with an estimated net worth of $1,075 billion in 2013. Although tourism management degrees are a relatively new concept, having only been established in the late 20th century, the continued growth in this sector along with opportunities to travel and see the world make them a highly tempting prospect for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Many students see paying for college as an investment, and therefore expect to see a return on their work. Although it’s important not to forget the value of education as a means to expanding your interests, challenging yourself, and learning critical thinking, it’s certainly not unreasonable to also hope to be able to pay the bills. When a degree is offered that promises to qualify a student immediately in his or her intended field, the advantages are undeniable.
That being said, you should evaluate all of your motives for choosing a degree in order to make the best decision for yourself. For some, a more broadly focused liberal arts degree might be best, for others, a highly specialized, career-oriented degree is the way to go. Use this free worksheet to help you make the right choice in regard to your educational journey.