U.S. Students Take Note: China Axes College Majors That Don't Pay

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The battle over "useless" majors is nothing new. For years, American college students have been told that a degree in English, philosophy or fine arts is a one-way ticket to a career in the fast-food business. But when China faced the same problem, it didn't settle for trying to scare students away from them, or deploying an army of guidance counselors to give the hard sell to nursing and pharmacology. Instead, China's educational officials applied an old-fashioned capitalist solution to the problem: They announced plans to downsize -- or even cut -- majors whose graduates can't get jobs.

Admittedly, China's problems are stark, despite its famously booming economy. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, unemployment among all college grads there hovers at close to 30%. To trim those numbers, education officials have set a cutoff: Any major that has two consecutive years during which the employment rate for its graduates is below 60% will face the ax.

How would a Chinese-style program play out in the U.S.? Well, to begin with, there are no majors in America with 40% unemployment rates. The major with the worst unemployment record, clinical psychology, tops out at a comparatively minor 19.5%. The other top 10 unemployment majors -- miscellaneous fine arts, U.S. history, library science, educational psychology, military technologies, architecture, industrial and organizational psychology, miscellaneous psychology, and linguistics -- have unemployment rates ranging between 10.2% and 16.2%. For that matter, the unemployment rate among recent U.S. college graduates -- while historically high -- is 9.7% -- that's less than a third of China's rate.

Chinese academics have begun fighting against the move, but the country's students have already been voting with their feet. While America has always been an international education destination, the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. has exploded. In 2011, their numbers swelled to 128,000 -- 30% more than the previous year. And with educational options dwindling in China, it seems likely that the flood will continue. In other words, the world's largest exporter may soon be ramping up another product line: liberal arts majors.

For a full list of majors, unemployment rates and earnings, click here.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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Skeptic

American unemployment rate is a scam. I haven't had a job for 11 years, and can't find one, but the U.S. doesn't consider me unemployed because I have been unemployed for so long.

December 05 2011 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Skeptic's comment
wfreeberg

Whar marketable skills do you posess to make someone hire you? You do understand, people get hired to make the owners/invesater money.

December 05 2011 at 6:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
savemycountry911

Change professions.

December 05 2011 at 9:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
vampyreincubus

it shouldnt be about whether they pay or not it should be about the potential usefulness of the classes but ill be honest we need to take a lesson from them and cut our budget get rid of classes in elementary school and junior and senior highschool that are unnecessary if a person decides to major in the subject in college fine let them but we dont need to drag out a school process that could be done in less then 10 years to equal out to 12 it would seriously cut the budget and set kids up that dont want to go to college for more education to just get out there and find a job to adjust too and potentially wake up earlier then they might have and realize college may be a better option for a better career

December 05 2011 at 5:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rjohn12800

An education is meant to do that, educate, ergo Educari, a trade school is meant to teach a skill which is repeatable. I would suggest that skills, given the fact that most skills in demand today may not be in demand when a student entering H.S. or perhaps College today, will be usable or in demand when they graduate, might be better approached with a combination approach, Learn How to Learn, Learn, Learn How to Keep Learning. China, given their clay feet of an aging cradle to grave population and a state capitalist system would hardly be one that I would emulate. Let's face it, what has China invented recently vs. stolen recently. It would appear to me that they produce great worker bees, and have fostered a nation of thieves as queen bees. On the other hand, by shipping our jobs to them in exchange for low inflation rates and an ability to police and financially support an increasingly unappreciative world, We, on the other hand, may be producing a nation of drones, individually and corporately, looking for the next tarp, mortgage bailout, or unemployment or tuition bailout.

December 05 2011 at 3:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rjohn12800's comment
wdcarterjr

"Education" is great, depending on the definition used. I view a split in our educational system as education and training. Training is what I view as a means to making a living and education as appreciation of history, art, etc. Yes, there is overlap. Proper grammar is needed to function in the business world. The problem is that the various colleges within the university system have so much power over required courses to graduate. The costs to support professors that don't teach and expensive programs that only provide status to the university make it increasingly dificult for people to get a degree which is the ticket to many better jobs.

December 05 2011 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

But if we get rid of the low paying degrees, who will borrow all of that money for student loans.

December 05 2011 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mingo

Smart idea by China. Here in the united state we have millions with degrees in liberal arts or black history which is nice I guess but not the right direction to most jobs. Look I agree black history or anyones history should be taught but not as a major . We need more in the field of scienc and math to go on as a nation that is going forward. all levels of education need to be looked at before college . for those who will complain about the black studies comment I AM A MINORITY

December 05 2011 at 2:19 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
keedyk87

Many of the comments below verify what I have said before that modern day students pick a major according to the amount of money they will make in a specific career. When I was in college people majored in a specific area because they were actually interested in learning that knowledge. Or they majored in a course area because they knew and were told by actual educators that they were born with that talent. Now you have people born to be teachers becomming doctors soley because ther is more money in it. If I needed an operation I would want the kid born to be a doctor operating on me instead of someone who became a doctor because there is more money in it. And you wonder how our society became so backwards?

December 05 2011 at 2:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
keedyk87

.You say a degree in Philosophy is a ticket to a fast food job! Did you know that up until the late nineteen sixties or early seventies Lawyers were required to have a bachelors degree in Philosophy before they could enter law school. Combine this information with the fact that most politicians have law degrees and you can see why so many of our politicans are corrupt and incompetent. Lawers no longer can explain to you what truth or justice are. Instead they need to refer to one of their lawriarian books to see what some lawbriarian before them had to say about a legal matter. Someone just as ignorant as they are. You see a Philosopher has to be logical, reasonable and study Logic and the principles of knowledge. They also have to know what the powers of the mind are which enable us to be logical and reasonable. Our modern day lawbrairians are so corrupt because they no longer are required to study the greatest thinkers on such topics throught history. Instead they think it's about memorization and regurgitation of what someone as incompetent as them had to say on such topics. They were never required to UNDERSTAND the basic powers of the mind. Many of you will laugh but I think our political predessors were more competent,just and honest because unlike present day lawbriarians and politicians they actually did understand the basic principles behind both emperical and idealistic knowledge. We have been devolving as a society since the election between Ronald Rehgan and Jimmy Carter. men who actually sought truth and justice for all instead of filling their pockets with corporate money.

December 05 2011 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
keedyk87

.You say a degree in Philosophy is a ticket to a fast food job! Did you know that up until the late nineteen sixties or early seventies Lawyers were required to have a bachelors degree in Philosophy before they could enter law school. Combine this information with the fact that most politicians have law degrees and you can see why so many of our politicans are corrupt and incompetent. Lawers no longer can explain to you what truth or justice are. Instead they need to refer to one of their lawriarian books to see what some lawbriarian before them had to say about a legal matter. Someone just as ignorant as they are. You see a Philosopher has to be logical, reasonable and study Logic and the principles of knowledge. They also have to know what the powers of the mind are which enable us to be logical and reasonable. Our modern day lawbrairians are so corrupt because they no longer are required to study the greatest thinkers on such topics throught history. Instead they think it's about memorization and regurgitation of what someone as incompetent as them had to say on such topics. They were never required to UNDERSTAND the basic powers of the mind. Many of you will laugh but I think our political predessors were more competent,just and honest because unlike present day lawbriarians and politicians they actually did understand the basic principles behind both emperical and idealistic knowledge. We have been devolving as a society since the election between Ronald Rehgan and Jimmy Carter. men who actually sought truth and justice for all instead of filling their pockets with corporate money.

December 05 2011 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pickerronald

Get your kids interested in Petroleum Engineering, so they can support you when you get old.

December 05 2011 at 12:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pickerronald's comment
jarjax1632b

I agree with you 100%. Average starting salary for Petro Engineering.... $85,000 per year.

December 05 2011 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rodoner

We're heading in that direction. It was clear to many, when Mr Obama nationalized student loans that eventually the government would decide what people would be allowed to major in to get financing

December 05 2011 at 12:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rodoner's comment
chris1011

Student loans were ALWAYS paid for by tax payers. Allowing banks to handle them simply raised their cost. Banks never put up the money to begin with. How ignorant can you be???

December 05 2011 at 3:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply