Do we need more science majors?
Photo: Analytical Mechanics Association. Source: NASA
That’s what a lot of people think. And as a science major myself, the husband of a science major, and the father of four science majors, I certainly believe in the utility and importance of studying science in college. It helps young minds develop rigorous, analytical thinking, along with quantitative skills.
But some proposals to provide special encouragement for kids to study science seem misguided, like college-loan forgiveness or different tuition rates for different majors. These will just lead institutions to game the system. Incentives are already out there for all to see: last year’s top-paying majors were systems, aerospace, and chemical engineering. The bottom-paying fields were social work, culinary arts, and family studies.
Sometimes an industry has a potential talent shortage and needs to take action to encourage, recruit, and retain talent. This happened with nuclear power 20 years ago. Nuclear power wasn’t “cool.” It was where Homer Simpson worked, and the workforce was aging. But employers worked with universities, community colleges, unions, and the military to find good workers. Now nuclear engineering majors are also among the highest paid groups.
These kinds of micro-initiatives are much more successful than massive programs. Big plans require rigid rules that people can play with and distort to reclassify cooking into alimentary-engineering. And most of the new money gets eaten up by bureaucratic bloat.
The marketplace knows what skills it needs and pays people accordingly. It’s called supply and demand. That’s the most scientific recruitment tool I know.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer