Offspring, College Major, and Getting Started

My son graduated from college last summer after finishing a final internship. For most of seven years, despite being away at college for much of four years and, he held on to a job at local pizza store (pick up/delivery style) as assistant manager and driver. To entice him to stay on after graduation, they made him store manager. It has been a good experience for him and now it is one he is happy to put behind him. Yesterday, he started a new job.

To the dismay of some of our non-nuclear family members, the new job is not a some great high-paying office job related to his major (health promotion) nor is it something they currently feel they can brag about. It is a job with a mom-and-pop RV sales and service company as a technician.

I think this is a great opportunity. And I have been encouraging him to feel comfortable going this direction when the possibility first surfaced a few months ago.

The money is not fantastic, but it actually puts him about right at the median for graduates of the college he graduated from at 18 months post-completion. (I have really good data on this that we have produced at work.) There is almost immediate possibilities to increase his pay through various certifications, a bonus program, and some reasonable benefits for a small business.

More importantly, to my mind at least, there are two huge advantages to this job. The first is the opportunity to be trained and develop some mastery in RV repair. RVs are nothing more than mobile houses, some with engines, and thus the skills are directly transferable to other aspects of life. The second advantage is that this is another exposure to American enterprise and the small business. At the age of 23, I think there is very little that is much more important to learn, regardless of what he may do in the long run.

The ability to take advantage of opportunities like this is the brilliance of a good liberal arts background. His willingness to do so is a source of great pride to me as I believe so strongly in learning to do as much as possible with hand and mind.

When I graduated college I went directly to graduate school. Did not even take the summer off. However, I had already taken a three-year college sabbatical in the US Army Infantry and spent my return to college learning to be a combat medic in the Reserves. In grad school I worked in The University Museum running the frame shop and learning much about art conservation.

I don’t think I need to defend the liberal arts, I think they defend themselves. As I have said before, I think art is the best major as it is all about problem-solving. To truly take advantage of the Liberal Arts requires the right set of personality skills. One needs to be doer that is comfortable with ambiguity, change, and a willingness to manage by opportunity.

Switching topics slightly, there is a chart I ran across the other day. Over at Art Market Monitor there is an article with the headline “Artists & Curators End Up Poorer Than Their Parents” and it unfortunately demonstrates that people that write about the arts don’t always have the critical thinking and analysis skills we expect from a liberal arts education. The article is really nothing other than a repackaging of NPR story based on the National Longitudinal Survey (NLSy79) which tracks some 12,000 young people in 1979 to 2010. It is a terribly useful and interesting survey for research, but I don’t believe the sampling is such that you can really use it a generalizable way to talk about job outcomes the way they did, although I may be wrong.

However, the two attention-grabbing charts show that “archivists, curators, and librarians” and “designers, musicians, artists”  all had parents who did better than they are doing in 2010. Uh, well, duh. First, some career choices simply don’t lead to lead a lot of money. Second, and this probably more important, it seems very likely that those individuals growing up somewhat wealthier are likely to have had greater exposure to the arts and various arts careers. Because of this, they may also have been more likely to be content with a career that would likely earn less than their parents (especially if their parents were wealthier to begin with)  because of the way they value the arts.

I know that despite having gone to fair number of museums when I was young, until I got a job at The University Museum (SIUE) I never thought about all the people behind the scenes. I probably put the idea of museum management in the category of Ron Popeil and Ronco “Set it and forget it.” The fact the individuals from less wealthy families appear to be less represented in these fields may simply represent the lack of awareness of the career opportunities.

In other words, I am just not surprised by the results.

So, while stories and charts like ones I’ve described are interesting, they need far more analysis and text. I expect to be looking more into this as it so closely related to some of things we are doing and there are people who asked for analysis of wage outcomes based on family income at college entry. That could be interesting.