Please indulge my media relations persona for a moment as I talk about one reason I love working at a land-grant university with a focused mission on engineering, science and technology.
It’s because, even in this down economy for many college graduates, a lot of our new graduates are getting great starting salaries, and even multiple job offers. This is a great success story that resonates with a lot of people — especially parents of prospective students. And the news media, which cover this story with headlines like: Big Paychecks Still Obtainable for Some New Grads.
Of the 10 highest paying college degrees in the nation these days, our campus offers nine of them. And while we don’t offer the other one (industrial engineering) by name, our engineering management program is similar, and many grads from that discipline move into the same kinds of positions as industrial engineering majors.
I guess in a way I’m fortunate to work for such an institution during times like these. Engineering, IT and related fields are usually a safe bet in a down economy. Even so, we in the communications office sometimes philosophize about just how much we ought to crow about something so crass as starting salaries for our graduates. It’s not all about the money, is it?
This is what happens when you get liberal arts and journalism majors handling the PR and marketing for a university so focused on science, technology and measurable outcomes like starting salaries. (To make matters more difficult, one of us holds a minor in philosophy.) Some of us tend to side with one of the commenters on Seth Godin’s recent “higher ed meltdown” post (Seth Godin again!), who wrote:
The critical function of college education is to help students build a solid foundation of validated knowledge and to develop critical and analytical skills to identify the solid knowledge in the unevaluated mass of information that threatens to overwhelm us.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But those of us who work for land-grant universities have another, more pragmatic (even vocational) calling to prepare students for professional work.
Land-grant universities were created to train doctors, lawyers, agronomists, engineers to serve society in functional, pragmatic ways. To do that, of course they must have the critical and analytical skills the commenter quoted above insists is the critical function of higher education.
So, what is the big payoff of higher education? Is it the opportunity to start post-college life with a good job at a high salary? Is it a well trained critical mind? From my perspective, having the opportunity to do the work you love and to get paid well for it, while also being able to think critically, creatively and constructively, is the main thing. As our state’s governor, Jay Nixon, said in his commencement address to Missouri S&T graduates last weekend, our world needs philosophers as much as it needs physicists. And both should be able to make a living for their contributions to the greater good of society.
Photo: Missouri S&T May 2010 Commencement. Photo by B.A. Rupert.