There is a big difference between training and education. Training is practice in a specific set of skills to allow one to better perform a particular task. Education is broader; it focuses on helping people be better thinkers and consumers of information. Education helps people be more effective in everything, including training. A well educated person can more efficiently learn to do specific tasks when trained, among its many other benefits.
Universities exist to educate, but a lot of people seem to have confused that with training. The other day, I ran across this article which lists majors to avoid. Why? Because they aren’t employable because they don’t train the right skills.
But that’s not the point of college. College education makes for a more cognitively adept employee – one who will be able to adjust to situations that training has not prepared him or her for. And an educated employee can be trained cost effectively to do present tasks, or retrained cost effectively in the future for whatever tasks the changing environment creates. If you’re looking for somebody who just does mindless drone work, why are you bothering with a college grad at all?
The article advises against anthropology because “he problem with majoring in anthropology – like other liberal arts disciplines – is that most opportunities in this field exist in teaching”. That’s a terribly ignorant view of an anthropology major. Anthro majors learn to critically analyze arguments, integrate information across a diverse array of sources, distinguish reliable from unreliable information, master large quantities of information quickly, and work with and understand people. Those are some of the most valued skills out there. And maybe the person doesn’t know how to do accounting: guess what, you can learn that for free from a dozen online sources. An employer who doesn’t realize that better thinkers are the best return on investment… well, you shouldn’t want to work for them because such a lack of foresight suggests the business won’t be competitive long term.
If you’re not an engineer, going on to a PhD, or otherwise in a highly technical field, then it doesn’t matter what you major in – all that matters is that you take advantage of the opportunities to educate yourself. The content you’re learning is secondary to the cognitive growth that occurs while you learn that content. (That said, there may be signal value in your choice of majors – some schools have ‘gut’ majors, and employers may know that students chose those majors so as to not challenge themselves or educate themselves – that may be a good reason to avoid a major, although perhaps those majors are also places you could stand out from the less motivated crowd).
At least once a week I see an article on the Yahoo lead page that suggests that your employment will be largely based on your major. That’s largely a fallacy, and it annoys me that the media keeps propagating it.