When Kim Brown and I were working on the book, we were particularly committed to writing the final chapter on careers. We had both spent many years advising students, and we know the questions that they had about employment, and that students couldn’t find the answers in existing textbooks. We tried to map out the career paths that students could take, and the choices that these paths entailed. But something strange happened. As the book went through different iterations, some external reviewers of the text had a strong reaction to that chapter, which they viewed as too “vocational.” Yet Kim and I held fast, because we believed that this chapter was critical for students. Having taught with this text now, I can attest that this is the chapter that students most value, as students have even come up to me to thank me for including that section in the text.
It may be that academic culture has changed since the 2008 crisis. But I’m not sure of that. There seems to still be a division between some faculty, who perceive it to be their job to teach their students to be critical thinkers and citizens, and students, who also want to find employment. As student debt increases to levels that are not only unsustainable, but also raise issues of generational justice, it’s natural that students would ask questions about the payback for their degree. For that reason, I found a recent post to be significant as it showed -based on data from payscale.com- that International Relations graduates had some of the highest incomes of all recent graduates. As the author noted, liberal arts degrees were well-represented amongst the more financially successful careers. That’s perhaps unsurprising because the skills that employers look for -the ability to write well, to analyze an argument, to work on teams, to speak effectively, to think from another perspective- are core to the liberal arts.
Of course, a large proportion of majors in International and Global Studies enter the field with a wish to serve others, whether it be in the area of public health or development. And an on-line post is perhaps not the best place for statistical data. I’ve also had the sad experience of meeting a former student who is now working waiting tables, which can make any faculty member question the value of what they teach. Still, in this cynical and difficult time, its worth remembering that we do live in an age of globalization, and that those people who speak another language (or two), understand the global system, and have a solid liberal arts education, will likely succeed. For more information, check out the last chapter in our book.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University