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.
- 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.