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.

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14 years ago

It seems to me that you two are saying the same thing. You want government to get out of the way and help business to thrive in the state, not kill it. Tabetha seems to be saying that to keep graduates in the state, then RI needs to have better jobs available to them. The state can certainly help with that by cultivating a business-friendly and thus employment-friendly atmosphere. I agree with what Tabetha is saying. Many college students will make local connections in their area of study while in college, and then often will find employment using those connections.
About the only area where the state has done what you’re both advocating for, in an area that is popular with a RI college is the field of teaching. Education is a popular major at RIC and RI definitely helps foster the employment opportunities for teachers in the state.
Now if they could just do more to make RI more attractive for the technology, medical and other similar fields, we’d be getting somewhere.

14 years ago

Patrick, Thank you – that was my point exactly. I was not implying that people should study useless majors. I was implying that many students come to RI because of the educational opportunities but then leave because of the lack of employment opportunities. In a state with so many colleges and universities but, conversely, such a high unemployment rate, it seems that we have no choice but to cultivate a business-friendly environment or the students will continue to do what they’ve been doing – using RI institutions to get their degrees and then going elsewhere for jobs. I can attest to the fact that an education degree from RIC is one of the few degrees that will actually lead to employment in one’s field in RI. I personally got my B.S. from RIC, got a job quickly as a bilingual special education teacher in Providence, and taught while pursuing my M.Ed. at RIC. I continued teaching in Providence Schools for over 8 years, until I was presented with the opportunity to pursue my doctorate through a teaching fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh. I went with that opportunity, though my heart will always be in RI. Once I finish in 2011, my husband and I have decided to go where the best job opportunities take us. I would love to return to RI and still have an investment in RI (as I own property in Providence), but unless I can find an attractive opportunity that will allow me to use my doctorate in the state, I will not be back. Right now it looks like MA, CT,NY, or DC may offer more opportunities. This is a simple fact of life. People will go where the opportunities lie. I do not think everyone needs a college degree or certainly an advanced… Read more »

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