Major Dilemma — Matthew O’Brien from The Atlantic on liberal arts majors and the economy.
Is our college students learning?
Rarely is the question not asked nowadays. Graduates now face a tough labor market and even tougher debt burdens, which has left many struggling to find work that pays enough to pay back what they owe. Today, as my colleague Jordan Weissmann points out, young alums aren’t stuck in dead-end jobs much more than usual (despite the scare stories you may have heard). But that’s a cold comfort for grads who borrowed a lot to cover the high cost of their degrees.
There are two, well, schools of thought about why freshly-minted grads have had such a tough time recently. You can blame the smarty-pants majors or blame the economy. In other words, students can’t get good jobs either because they aren’t learning (at least not the right things) in college, or because there aren’t enough good jobs, period.
This is far from an academic debate. If recent grads can’t find good work because they didn’t learn any marketable skills, there’s little the government can do to help, besides “nudging” current students to be more practical. And that’s exactly what conservative governors in Florida and North Carolina are considering with proposals to charge humanities majors higher tuition
than, say, science majors at state schools.
But there’s an obvious question. If liberal arts majors “didn’t learn much in school,” as Jane Shaw put it in the Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732380700457828242388144606... 
why haven’t they always had trouble finding work? Are there just more of them now, or is this lack of learning just a recent phenomenon?