Does the world need more science majors?
That’s what a lot of people think. And as a science major myself, the husband of a science major, and the father of three science majors (so far), I certainly believe in the utility and importance of studying science in college. It helps young people develop many important skills.
But some proposals to provide special encouragement for kids to study science seem misguided, like college-loan forgiveness or differential tuition rates. That will lead institutions to just game the system. Incentives are already out there for all to see: last year’s top-paying majors were petroleum, aerospace, and chemical engineering. The bottom-paying fields were social work, culinary arts, and child and family studies.
Sometimes an industry sees a potential talent shortage and needs to take action to encourage, recruit, and retain qualified talent. Such was the case with nuclear power 20 years ago. Nuclear power wasn’t “cool”—it was where Homer Simpson worked—and its workforce was aging. But employers worked with universities, community colleges, unions, and the military to fill find good workers. Now nuclear engineering majors are also among the highest paid grads.
Such micro-initiatives are generally much more successful than massive programs. Big plans require rigid rules that people can play with and distort to reclassify cooking into alimentary-engineering. Most of the money then gets eaten up by bureaucratic oversight.
The marketplace knows what it needs and pays accordingly. That’s the most scientific recruitment tool there is.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer