Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Am Not a Winner (or Loser)

I was watching CNN's "Your Money" Saturday at noon when one of the panelists referred to graduates with various degrees as the "winners" in the economy, while others were "losers." This notion that because I worked on a graduate degree, assuming substantial debt and working part-time, I am now a "winner" is absurd. It is offensive to me that hard work is being equated to mere luck.

The source of the discussion was the following report:
Georgetown University 
Center on Education and the Workforce
What is it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors
http://cew.georgetown.edu/whatsitworth/
Anthony P. Carnevale - Jeff Strohl - Michelle Melton
We've always been able to say how much a Bachelor's degree is worth in general. Now, we show what each Bachelor's degree major is worth.
The report finds that different undergraduate majors result in very different earnings. At the low end, median earnings for Counseling Psychology majors are $29,000, while Petroleum Engineering majors see median earnings of $120,000.
The top 10 majors with the highest median earnings are: Petroleum Engineer ($120,000); Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration ($105,000); Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000); Aerospace Engineering ($87,000); Chemical Engineering ($86,000); Electrical Engineering ($85,000); Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering ($82,000); Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering and Mining and Mineral Engineering (each with median earnings of $80,000).
The 10 majors with the lowest median earnings are: Counseling/Psychology ($29,000); Early Childhood Education ($36,000); Theology and Religious Vocations ($38,000); Human Services and Community Organizations ($38,000); Social Work ($39,000); Drama and Theater Arts, Studio Arts, Communication Disorders Sciences and Services, Visual and Performing Arts, and Health and Medical Preparatory Programs (each at $40,000).
I'm sorry, but I've known since I was in junior high school that engineers earned more money than artists or theologians (unless you're a televangelist, which seems lucrative). Choosing the "right" major to earn a living has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with luck. Are there really high school students unaware that computer science offers more earnings potential than a theatre arts degree?

Yet, on the television was a CNN panel talking about the lucky winners in the economy. And, of course, they bemoaned how poorly paid some of the professions were. You can guess the ones they suggested should be better paid: teaching, social work, and counseling.

The problem with the reasoning of the CNN panel is that it ignores the realities of supply and demand. It also ignores the extreme challenge of completing some degrees versus others. Why can't we admit that a science or math degree really is, without question, harder to earn than an undergraduate psychology or English degree? It's not a secret that engineers are thrilled to earn a 3.0 GPA, while I think all but one or two of my English cohorts finished with 3.8 or better GPAs.

Supply and demand matter in both the private and public sectors. A city engineer with an undergraduate degree earns more than a city school teacher, though the teacher generally has at least one extra year of education. It is a lot easier to find teachers than engineers.

The high school student deciding to pursue an engineering degree is not a "winner" after four or more years in college. He or she made a choice, worked hard, and had a clear aim. That's called drive and planning, not luck.

I'm sick of television pundits, newspaper columnists, and random bloggers classifying all success in life as luck. Do these semi-famous, sort-of-known people attribute their success to luck? Random circumstances? If so, no wonder they can't believe other people achieve success the old fashioned way: they earn it.

I am a teacher. I have an English degree and a journalism degree. I knew going into college that I wasn't choosing the path to riches -- at least not via writing or teaching. Then again, I also kept my technology skills and certifications current because there's something to be said for a safety net.

My wife was a double major in engineering as a undergrad. She has a master's degree, too. We worked hard for our educations. I have a doctoral degree specializing in "new media" (technology) and education. I'm still a computer and business geek, no matter how much I also love language. Heck, I'd finish a business or technology degree as well if I could.

My wife and I know a lot of teachers. Many of our classmates became teachers. Few of them became engineers, research scientists, or physicians.

Sure, "luck" or "fate" is being born in the United States, with hundreds of colleges and universities. But neither my wife nor I happened to be born to university educated parents. Our families are not wealthy. We worked hard and achieved success.

When you view success as the result of winning and losing, you don't appreciate our economic system nor do you accept the value of free will. The implication is that you believe "the rich" were simply lucky, fortunate enough to win life's lottery. But life is not entirely random.

Preparation matters. Like most first-generation college graduates, I'm not a winner: I'm a person who was prepared. My wife was also prepared for the future. No, the path to success has not been smooth and without major setbacks. But we never stopped working towards something better.

CNN's "experts" should know something about hard work. Or maybe they simply got lucky enough to land on an international cable network?

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