Students Aren’t Economic Gurus
As a follow-up to this morning’s post on Rhode Island’s need to get out of the way of its economy, Tabetha recently offered a comment in our discussion of the economy and higher education to which I’d like to return:
If RI wants to keep college grads, the number 1 need is pretty simple: have jobs in the most popular fields available. Without jobs in their field, recent grads have no reason to stay in RI. It would make most sense to analyze the most popular majors and then try to attract businesses that would hire graduates in those areas. RI has a high unemployment rate and I suspect that a dearth of employment opportunities in popular fields of study most affects the decision to leave town. After 4 years (or more) of study and the probable accumulation of student loans, I doubt many recent grads are going to be content to work the counter at the local Dunkin’ Donuts.
This approach comes at the problem from the wrong perspective. Students choose their fields of study for a variety of reasons, ranging from personal desire to experience with adults’ careers to advice and research about economic directions. Even to the extent that a college degree dictates a particular industry or type of business (which is less and less the case), the student’s research and preferences are not the most reliable criteria on which to build an economy.
It’s like giving the folks in entry-level positions a decisive say in the company’s big-picture management. To the contrary, the people who have invested their years and their fortunes in a particular business are the ones best suited to say what it should do and where it should be located.
Again: Rhode Island’s focus should be on getting out of the way of people who are willing to imagine and build the economy, not on allowing government functionaries to try their hand at economic prognostication or selecting an array of jobs that might dazzle young adults who know little about the way of the world or even what a career should look like.