Students Seeking Comfortable Employment
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By John von Heyking, June 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

Each year I invite graduates of my Political Science department to speak to current students about their careers.  Students gain better insight into their future jobs from hearing from graduates than anything I can tell them.  I invite graduates from a cross-section of career paths, including lawyers, civil service, elected office, business, and administration.  I make a point of omitting graduates who have gone into academics.  Teaching students about the importance of liberal education is crucial, but there is nothing wrong about appealing to their desire for material gain.  Liberal education is about getting a life, but students still need to get a job.

When speaking of material incentives, one presenter this past year told students that while a Poli Sci degree is, on average, less lucrative than one in Nuclear Engineering or even Economics, their degree can yield greater power.  As a town manager, the graduate was only half-kidding.

Recently, Universum concluded a global study that rounds out the story.  It surveyed 10,000 university students worldwide, and reports that students list government as their top choice for a future employer.  This holds true across majors, including liberal arts, engineering, business, and health professional.  It seems universities are breeding an ethos conducive to civil service instead of entrepeneurship.

The study’s authors suggest several factors contribute to this finding

  • 60% of students are women: "Women look for different things in a job than men”
  • the recession has people looking for more secure work and civil service, which in many cases offers lifetime tenure and defined pensions, which the private sector generally does not provide
  • civil service is purportedly more ethical than the private sector, which pollutes more.  Students still believe the Hegelian fallacy that the civil service is the universal class because it has the universal interests of society in mind.
  • For liberal arts majors, there are simply more employment opportunities for them: "You can probably find something you qualify for even if you are a general arts graduate…. There aren't many employers you can say that about."  Even so, the study indicates that government is the most attractive option for all majors, including engineers, business, health and professional, as well as liberal arts.

Alexis de Tocqueville noted that what today we call the administrative state would expand due to its benevolence.  In this case, the state simply seems to offer the easiest path to employment. 

However, with balancing budgets consisting as perhaps the greatest domestic political challenge in the next few years, university instructors are well-advised to encourage their students to consider alternative career paths, including business.  They should take a page out of one of my grad school professors, who once shocked a group of Peace Studies students when he told them the best way for them to “change the world” was to become investment bankers.

If students really want to pursue their ideals, they should see them in routes other than government.  Civil service is not the universal class as Hegel believed.  Professors should encourage them to embrace risk.  This message may not be entirely believable coming from a tenured professor (and in most cases, a state employee), but even we had to take a considerable risk in going to graduate school for many years, and confront the risk of studying a topic that would yield few employment opportunities and other social benefits.

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1 Comment
Lee Trepanier on Jun 30, 2011 at 7:52 am

Great post. I do the same with my students and advise them not to only consider the private sector but also the military (as officers), especially those who plan to enter law or medical school later.

about the author

John von Heyking
John von Heyking

I teach political philosophy at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, as well as religion and politics. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 1999.

My publications include Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World (Missouri, 2001), Civil Religion in Political Thought:  Its Perennial Questions and Enduring Relevance in North America (coeditor; published by CUA Press, 2010), Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought (coeditor, published with U. of Notre Dame Press, 2008), two edited volumes of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (Missouri, 2003), as well as articles on Aristotle and friendship, political representation, citizenship, republicanism, just war, Islamic politics, politics and prophecy, leadership, the place of America in contemporary political thought, religious liberty under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the political philosophy of rodeo. I am also at work on a book-length study on the relationship between friendship and political order. My editorials have appeared in the Globe and Mail (Toronto), Calgary Herald, C2C: Canada’s Journal of Ideas, and the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs. I am currently Associate Editor for History, Theory, and Law of the journal, Politics and Religion, published by Cambridge University Press. His work has been translated into Italian, German, and Chinese. I have delivered invited lectures to audiences throughout Canada and the United States, as well as in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Russia.