Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Governors, stop bashing liberal arts

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 9:10 PM EST, Wed February 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Florida, Texas governors want state colleges to charge less for STEM degrees
  • LZ Granderson: Government has no business deciding value of any subject to society
  • Granderson: But recent grads fact a jobless rate of 8.9% and huge costs
  • Granderson: Students should consider whether they can get a job to pay back loans

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- It seems everyone knows a college degree is important but few have a plan to keep it affordable.

Just this past academic year, tuition went up twice as fast as inflation and the cost of textbooks rose faster than tuition. Meanwhile, The New York Times recently reported that "wages have fallen to a record low as a share of America's gross domestic product." 

As a result, the average 2011 graduate left school with $26,600 in student loan debt, helping to push the country's total student loan debt past $1 trillion.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Combine that with an unemployment rate for recent college graduates of 8.9%, and you see the impetus behind the First World question du jour -- "Is college really worth it?" That's a question that is easily answered by the 23% unemployment rate for folks without a bachelor's.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Still, the threat of leaving school with crippling loan payments does bring up a more valid question: Should students continue to take out huge loans to pursue majors that don't have a clear path to paying that loan back? In other words, a job?

In an ironic showing of big government, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both conservatives, decided to introduce plans in which state institutions charge less for STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math) than liberal arts degrees.

"We're spending a lot of money on education, and when you look at the results, it's not great," Scott told a crowd in Tallahassee in 2011. "Do you want to use your tax money to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology? I don't."

   That's a pretty good zinger but it doesn't pass the smell test.

First of all -- to borrow language from the GOP script -- I don't think the government should be picking winners and losers. And state officials massaging tuition costs to lure students away from fields they don't approve of does just that.

What are colleges looking for?
Keeping college costs down

There is a difference between an education and training. Just because the vocational outcome between the two might be different doesn't mean it's government's role to assign its value to society.

Not to mention the initial outcomes are not always black and white.

For example, recent college grads with a degree in architecture have a 13.9% unemployment rate, while English literature majors had a 9.2% rate, according to a study conducted by Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workplace. The report also found that communication majors had a lower unemployment rate than mechanical engineers and computer science majors. Recent information technology majors had a nearly 12% rate.

Instead of coercing students into certain fields by saddling liberal arts with higher costs, Scott, Perry and others should concentrate on providing families with all the information they need to make informed decisions.

During his State of the Union Address, President Obama announced he was launching The College Scoreboard, a website that consolidates costs, student loan debt and other financial variables for each school to help families get "the most bang for your educational buck."

The information is useful but far from complete, according to Pauline Abernathy, vice president of The Institute for College Access and Success. "They don't tell you what percentage of the students at the school borrowed," Abernathy told me. "So you can report a default rate at a particular school, but if you don't put that rate in context, it can be misleading.

"Also, the median debt number includes those that graduated and students that dropped out. So schools with high drop out rates and high borrowing rates come out looking far worse than what they actually may be."

Still, Abernathy credited the administration for giving parents a tool to help them make better decisions.

The next step should be incorporating research on which majors offer the best opportunities for jobs, so if someone's daughter or son wants a degree that doesn't train for a specific job, they can see what they are getting into in the long term.

Parents can joke about liberal art majors and kids coming back home after college, but it's an infringement on civil liberties for government to strong arm students into technical degrees by artificially manipulating costs.

Any official who's concerned about higher education in this country should address the skyrocketing costs, not demonize degrees they don't appreciate. That's for parents like me to do.

I was standing in a long Starbucks line recently and decided to strike up a conversation with a college student who said something rather interesting.

"What's your major?" I asked.

"TV," she said.

The student went on to tell me that part of her focus was studying the history of television programming. I kept smiling and nodding at the appropriate time all the while thinking "I sure hope her parents are rich."

Normally I don't believe anybody should be telling folks what to study. But even I must admit the thought of kids borrowing tens of thousands to get a degree in "30 Rock" may require some intervention.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT