Business is the country's number one college major
That's up from, say, the 1970s, when business was a distant third. This is information that comes from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Princeton Review.
A lot of theories are offered in the article penned by Jean Cowden Moore, and she sums them up in this key paragraph: "Educators say today's students might not be as idealistic as their counterparts in the 1960s. Plus, they've grown up more coddled than past generations. Now that they're college students, they want to continue the lifestyle they grew up with, and they see business as a major that will give them a stable income."
All of that may be true, but I thought I'd offer a few other competing theories.
The entrepreneur as rock star. During the 1960s and 1970s, the mantra was that you didn't trust people over the age of 30. Therefore, a CEO was seen as a stuffy, completely corporate and uncool sort of guy. You didn't want to grow up to be the president of a company. That meant you had sold out. But I think something changed between Howard Hughes (loner millionaire recluse) and Lee Iacocca, when he turned around Chrysler in the 1980s and came out with his incredibly successful autobiography in 1984. Around that time, you also had Michael J. Fox playing Alex P. Keaton, conservative Republican who loves money and is proud of it. Then Bill Gates and Donald Trump were soon appearing on covers of newsweeklies. In that climate, who wouldn't want to be immersed in the business world?
The world is a scarier place. Sure, the 1960s and 1970s were no picnics -- Civil Rights struggles and Vietnam. But from a business perspective, a philosophy major knew that if he or she didn't make it in academics, they could always get a good job with a decent company. If you were going to study drama, and you didn't get a role on a hit sitcom, you could always get a good job with a decent company. If you were going to study poetry, and you didn't become the next Ezra Pound -- well, I guess you can see where I'm going with this. Now, even people who already have a good job with a good company don't know if they can remain indefinitely. Being a business major is seen as developing life skills more crucial to survival.
Parents -- the people who all majored in philosophy, drama and poetry -- are urging their kids to go into business. Um, maybe because they found that their weren't a lot of jobs in these areas? As I said, this is just a theory.
The downside of all this, however, as Moore's article points out, is that while our country's business skills are sharper than ever, we have fewer people majoring in subjects like science, which is critical to our country, if we're going to keep up with other nations in fields like technology and medicine. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I've also heard you can make quite a good living working as a scientist or an engineer in nanotechnology. So the next time you run into a kid who seems to have a potential in science or math or even philosophy -- can't we all use a few more good philosophers? -- you might want to urge them onto pursue those paths. You might say our country is depending on them.
Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).