There are a lot of factors that students take into account when deciding on a college major – and those factors can vary a great deal, depending on the individual. Sure, future income projections play a role in the decision-making process. But, how big a role? Factors That Trump Financial Success
In the paper “Distinguishing the Factors Influencing College Students' Choice of Major,” researchers Beggs, Bantham, and Taylor found that while financial success was a motivating factor used by students to choose a college major, equal or greater importance was placed on other things as well, including:
- Match with Interests/Skills – The study found that how well the major and potential jobs for graduates in that major matched with the student’s interests and/or strengths was ranked as the most important factor in choosing a major.
- Major Attributes – These attributes include course availability and variety, reputation of the program, and faculty strength.
- Job Characteristics – In the words of the authors of this paper, “Examples of these job characteristics were perceived availability of jobs, flexibility in jobs and career paths, and job security over the course of a career.”
So, yes, students are thinking about how their majors will impact their future job searches, and they want to get jobs that are a good fit for their interests and skills. But, their dream jobs don’t necessarily need to pay dream salaries. After all, it’s more important to be happy than to be rich, right?
College Factual’s data on education majors definitely seems to support this. Despite being a field with one of the lowest earnings potential, education continues to be one of the most popular college majors.
The Need to Attract More and Better New Teachers… In Some Areas
Wait a minute. Didn’t we just say that education was one of the most popular college majors? If that’s the case, how can there be a teacher shortage?
Due to all the news stories, many people are under the impression that the United States is suffering a massive national teacher shortage on all levels. It’s true that there is a shortage in certain areas of the country, including many of the southern and western states. There are also national shortages in specific disciplines, such as math and science.
But, try telling someone who’s looking for a job teaching high school history or English in one of the northeastern states there’s a teaching shortage. Don’t complain when you get hit in the head with one of the 300 crumpled “Thank you for your interest, but…” letters from that person’s trash can.
A higher salary or other financial incentive may not necessarily attract someone who has no interest in teaching to major in education, but could it get an existing education major or recent degree recipient to broaden their career focus? Could it get a math or science major to consider teaching for a few years before moving on to other career options?
Should We Take a Cue From the Military?
For years, the branches of the U.S. military have used college scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to attract smart, motivated young people. Recruiters don’t do this blindly, either. They use interviews and aptitude tests to identify prospects who are good matches in terms of both interests and skills.
There are a lot of different programs and plans, but in return for educational financial assistance, prospects generally have to agree to serve for a minimum number of years. They may also have to relocate – and they may not get a whole lot of choice about their relocation options.
Here come a few big questions.
Suppose you plan on majoring in math, chemistry, or physics – not because you want to be a teacher, but because you’re interested in other jobs that require that type of degree. Would you be willing to take additional classes to pick up an education degree as well and promise to teach for at least 3-4 years after graduation if it meant all of your tuition and living expenses were covered while you were in college?
Alternatively, suppose your real interests are in marketing and communications. Would you consider taking on a double major in marketing and English – and then spend 3-4 years teaching in an inner-city school for the same type of deal as above?
These scenarios bring up other questions, of course. Even if there is interest, how much would a program like this cost the tax-payers? Would it be worth the investment? Would those few years spent in teaching service cause you to get too late of a start on your preferred career path? Then again, these questions don’t matter so much if there is little interest in the program to begin with.
Have Other Ideas?
Other than raising teacher salaries across the board, what can we do to attract new teachers in areas where they are needed? Offer partial or full forgiveness on student loans? Pay for relocation expenses? Create a scholarship program for recent education graduates who have been unable to find jobs, so they can pick up additional certifications in other subjects?
All this doesn’t mean that teachers don’t deserve higher salaries. Personally, I think they should be paid more and teaching should be a coveted profession. I’m just not sure that the promise of a bigger paycheck will act like a magical beacon and attract new teachers to areas where they are most needed.