I have taught creative writing in Mississippi’s flagship university for over 20 years, and I’ve witnessed a powerful outcome: students who master written and spoken communication can change the world.
Which is why the educational trend focusing on student outcomes is so alarming. In September, Mississippi’s state auditor, Shad White, published a report, “Plugging the Brain Drain: Investing in College Majors That Actually Work.” It notes that many students are likely to leave our state after completing their educations, presumably for more exciting opportunities elsewhere. Mr. White proposes tying educational investments to majors that dovetail with workplace needs in Mississippi.
He cited a Texas bill signed into law in June that overhauls how the state funds its community colleges. Money for those colleges in Texas is now allotted based off student outcomes that prepare them for the work force. Mr. White said the Mississippi Legislature should create a study committee of work force experts to outline the most- and least-needed programs and design a university funding structure with the state’s work force and economy in mind.
It’s worth noting that nowhere in the eight-page report is educational value discussed in relation to anything other than money. I wonder what value he’d ascribe to John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
In social media posts, Mr. White also dismissed fields like African American studies, gender studies and anthropology as “useless degrees” in “garbage fields.” Instead, in the report, he recommends that students enter fields like construction management.
See how efficiently students in the poorest state are shunted toward the vocational: It’s not personal. It’s business. This, despite a study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that found that humanities majors are comparably likely to be satisfied with their jobs and employed in supervisory roles as graduates from other majors.