Wide range of studies gives students competitive edge

Mct and Mct

By Patrice M. Jones MCT

CHICAGO-Alex Zatvornitsky has spent uncountable hours researching Loyola University Chicago, the school where he started classes as a freshman last month.

He also has worked out how he will pay for his education and pondered what career he might pursue after he graduates.

But his college major? He is in no real hurry to figure that out, and in fact, feels it doesn’t matter that much.

“I don’t have a major, and I don’t mind being undecided,” Zatvornitsky said recently.

“I know I am not going to major in science,” he added, “maybe anthropology, history. … What I do know is that I want to take a broad scope of things.”

Zatvornitsky’s decision to make college a time of academic discovery and exploration is becoming less common as more students focus on college majors with a laser-like precision, hoping to make themselves more competitive in the job market.

That pressure to compete has meant majors such as business, technical or so-called occupational-related majors – specialized fields that are aligned directly with hot sectors of the job market – are gaining ground as the most popular majors on many university campuses.

Among college students at four-year institutions, the top five majors by enrollment are business, education, health sciences, computer/information sciences and visual/performing arts, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s most recent data.

With the exception of biology, economics and psychology, traditional liberal arts and sciences majors have declined both in the number and the percentage of the total degrees conferred during the last 30 years, according to Steven Brint, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Riverside, who studies higher education trends.

Strikingly, this trend has occurred during a time of significant enrollment growth at American universities.

“Occupational fields have accounted for approximately 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees in recent years, up from 45 percent in the 1960s, and hundreds of institutions now award 80 percent or more of their degrees in these fields,” Brint wrote in a recent study.

The trend toward choosing occupational majors, such as business or nursing, instead of a broader arts and sciences major, such as linguistics or English, is not surprising, says Carol Christen, co-author of “What Color Is Your Parachute? For Teens,” a newly published career guide.

Economic changes – from an increasingly competitive, globalized labor market to the rising burden of student debt – mean young people can’t afford to wait until well into college to make tough choices like choosing a major, she says, and the job market should play a role in those choices.

“Nobody buys an $80,000 piece of equipment and then says, `Gee, I don’t know how I am going to use this.’ But it happens with a college degree all the time. This is a consumer issue,” Christen says.