Discounted Degrees

Nov 12 2012 @ 10:38am

A Florida task force created by Governor Rick Scott is exploring varying university fees based on major:

Tuition would be lower for students pursuing degrees most needed for Florida's job market, including ones in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as the STEM fields. The committee is recommending no tuition increases for them in the next three years. But to pay for that, students in fields such as psychology, political science, anthropology, and performing arts could pay more because they have fewer job prospects in the state.

Alex Tabarrok thinks they're on to something:

The task force has the right idea but the right way to target subsidies is not to the job market per se (let alone Florida’s job market), wages already reflect job market needs. Subsidies instead should be targeted to fields where education has the greatest positive spillovers, benefits that spill over wages and flow to the public at large.

Jordan Weissmann is skeptical:

First, you need to take it on faith that the government is capable of divining which majors are going to be the most marketable year after year. Second, you need to believe that there are a large number of talented undergrads who could hack it in these subjects, but are choosing easier majors instead. I'm not sure either of those assumptions are sound.

Elizabeth Popp Berman is on the same page:

First, the folks pushing STEM degrees clearly haven’t talked to a lot of biology majors. Or chemists. Sure, everyone knows the petroleum engineers are raking it in. But even after Ph.D.’s, many STEM folks are stuck in postdoc hell, and midcareer, the median salary of a biology major is more than $13,000 a year less than her counterpart in political science. Heck, she even comes in almost $4,000 behind the much-maligned film major. Besides, if this is about encouraging students to go into—and I quote—“high-skill, high-demand, high-wage degrees (market determined),” why give the subsidy to STEM? Why not give it to finance majors ($23,500 above the poor biologists) or economists (almost $34,000 above)?

Daniel Luzer questions another aspect of the proposal:

It also seems puzzling to charge more for people who want to major in psychology, political science, anthropology, and the performing arts. Those classes are, in general, actually cheaper for a university to teach and administer than classes in sciences, engineering, and technology, which generally require expensive materials and laboratories.