FIU’s English degree ranked second biggest waste of money

Nicole Montero/Staff Writer

The University’s English major was deemed the second biggest waste of money by The Atlantic based on cost and employment and income of graduates. Using these metrics, the article concluded that the program isn’t worth it, as it costs more than the graduates end up making out of college.

Based on PayScale, the largest private tracker of U.S. salaries based on self-reported earnings by individuals who graduated from hundreds of schools, The Atlantic ranked degrees with the lowest 20-year net worth.

The most valuable college degree in America, according to the findings, is a bachelor of science from Harvey Mudd College, a small science and engineering school in California. Stanford’s computer science program pays off more than any major in the country, while the University of Virginia has the best dollar-for-dollar investment.

An English major at FIU paying out-of-state tuition makes $192,000 less than a high school graduate entering the workforce at the same time — $132,000 for in-state students. Only one school is a worse deal: Murray State University’s art major who makes $197,000 less than a high school grad.

The Department of English remains resilient, however, and defends the opportunities that an English major can bestow. Among those is James Sutton, associate professor and chairperson.

“The reason I so object to the article, other than the fact that our University’s name and department appear there, is that I don’t believe for an instant that this could possibly be true,” said James Sutton, English Department chairperson.

“The reason I so object to the article, other than the fact that our University’s name and department appear there, is that I don’t believe for an instant that this could possibly be true,” he said. “I don’t know how they got those numbers. My guess is that, wherever they came from, they are probably based on a very small sample.”

The Atlantic’s disclaimer: the estimates come from self-reported income, which “tends to skew up.”

But the numbers have some methodological background.

Starting with cost, the rankings take net cost rather than sticker price into account. This means it factors in financial aid. While four years at Stanford costs $236,000 — making it one of the 10 most expensive colleges in the U.S. — the “weighted net cost” is more like $74,000.

Sutton didn’t agree with PayScale coalescing English, liberal studies and humanities majors together.

According to Sutton, the Alumni Association has record of 3,280 liberal studies graduates and 225 humanities majors and, if combined with 3,634 English bachelor’s, there are about 7,139 graduates from the three programs together.

Sutton said he contacted PayScale last week to find out how many alumni reported salary figures to generate their numbers. He said the answer was 62 profiles.

“Sixty-two reports from 7,139 alumni,” Sutton said. “That is less than 1 percent rate-of-return. To be precise, it is .868 percent. A sample size of less than 1 percent is very difficult to take seriously.”

“A sample size of less than 1 percent is very difficult to take seriously,” Sutton said.

Other faculty and alumni board members agreed with Sutton and believe the article to be “outrageous.”

“The article was very incomplete in getting all their information,” said Sergio Aranda, an English Alumni Association board member. “There really wasn’t a lot of context to it and I feel like they just threw a bunch of numbers together. It’s wrong because there is so much you could do with an English major.”

Aranda was an English major at FIU and graduated in 1998. He emerged in the communications field and moved to marketing. From there, he worked in business development and various other industries, ending up in high tech.

“There really wasn’t a lot of context to it and I feel like they just threw a bunch of numbers together,” said Sergio Aranda, an English Alumni Association board member. “It’s wrong because there is so much you could do with an English major.”

“When you look at it, you wouldn’t make the correlation that I would end up here,” he said. “My English degree has allowed me a lot of flexibility in terms of what I wanted to do in my career. Everyone that I have met in the alumni board has been successful and has gotten value from their English degrees.”

The article also brings into question the Board of Governors’ funding model, which threatens to cut funding on the program in question if the program does not increase the number of degrees they award every five years and the students who get jobs within a year of graduation.

“Because of the funding model, we’ve entered a place in FIU where the state and administration  are really going to be paying attention to whether our students are getting jobs, how soon they’re getting jobs and what kinds of jobs they’re getting,” Sutton said. “I’m happy to have that challenge. Why be afraid of it?”

Sutton has seen that, knowing the realities of what an English major faces, it will take five to 10 years for alumni to be in a position where they are successful and can give back to the community. Although he welcomes the challenge that the funding model provides, he prefers for the model to be measured in a five to 10 year period, rather than directly after graduating.

“A degree in English has never been and will never be an easily quantifiable degree,” he said. “It’s not a degree that leads the student directly on any path. Unlike other majors, there are a number of things that English majors could do. But that takes time.”

The PayScale ratings did just that, however, calculating the 20-year college premium — how much a college grad will make in two decades above and beyond what they would have made if they didn’t attend college.

Josune Urbistondo, instructor in the Department of English and part of the English Alumni Association, said it’s the University’s job to develop the message of quality versus quantity.

“It should never become this conveyer belt,” she said. “There shouldn’t have to be, let’s say, 50 students to graduate this semester and, in a year, get this job with X amount of funds. I think we missed the point when we start to become so formulaic.”

Like Sutton and Aranda, Urbistondo disagrees with the article and believes that its arguments were not well developed or thought-out. She thinks that the article failed to mention the importance of the major.

“An English degree has, at its center and focus, the emphasis of exceptional writing, strong arguments and critical thinking at a complex level,” she said. “No matter what you end up doing, you will need to develop ideas and have well thought out arguments for any career. An English major allows just that.”

The article isn’t stopping Rodrigo Rossie, a junior and English major, from finishing his education.

“The article fails to mention the master’s of fine arts in creative writing offered by FIU, which
is among the top ten in country,” Rossie said. “English is an art, and any art requires dedication and passion in order to reach success.”

Although The Atlantic article ranked FIU’s English and humanities program third for waste of money, the English department remains confident.

“I can tell you that our English major is a very strong major, as are the other humanities majors,” he said. “They lead to highly productive, creative and full lives that are also economically beneficial.”


2 Comments on "FIU’s English degree ranked second biggest waste of money"

  1. While I appreciate FIU supporting its English department, I hope it doesn’t get too defensive. I graduated with a degree in English from FIU. It was indeed a total waste of money.
    Although PayScale sampled less that one percent of alumni, I believe the results are fairly accurate. Even if more alumni with higher salaries had been included, the numbers would still have been deplorably low.
    The Atlantic article should be a wake up call for English and humanities at the university. The piece isn’t about “highly productive, creative, full lives”. While those can be wonderful byproducts of the college experience that are seemingly unquantifiable, let’s keep focused on return on investment. Trying to reframe the debate isn’t fooling or serving anyone, neither is romanticizing the idea of the broke but philosophically well-rounded graduate with a “full life.”
    The offending departments should issue an apology to students past, present, and future– to past and present students and their families for any embarrassment this article may have caused, and to future students for the decrease in alumni donations this is bound to unleash. Then again, while many alums are living with their parents paycheck to paycheck now, maybe the decrease won’t be that drastic.
    The university should also apologize to its professors, who are now the laughing stock of academia.
    FIU, I urge you to be responsible and set a good example. Please apologize and learn from this article. Hold yourself accountable.

  2. As an alumni, I disagree. It isn’t the degree from FIU that is the problem, it is the underrepresented portion of people who use the degree appropriately. For example, the English degree in the past was regularly recognized as one of the leading in the United States. This generation was, however, several years ago. Most of those graduates went on to become various types of doctors and lawyers, specialists, at that.

    The degree prestigious. Those that earned very high scores are not complaining because it was very difficult to earn them, but also probably have busy careers. People go into the program underestimating what it really is and don’t do well because it is tough and recognized internationally. Of course, the degree requires many electives, which can be equally difficult to achieve awards in, but the reason is because the curve is actually tough and competition is high.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.