U.S. Students Take Note: China Axes College Majors That Don't Pay

The battle over "useless" majors is nothing new. For years, American college students have been told that a degree in English, philosophy or fine arts is a one-way ticket to a career in the fast-food business. But when China faced the same problem, it didn't settle for trying to scare students away from them, or deploying an army of guidance counselors to give the hard sell to nursing and pharmacology. Instead, China's educational officials applied an old-fashioned capitalist solution to the problem: They announced plans to downsize -- or even cut -- majors whose graduates can't get jobs.

Admittedly, China's problems are stark, despite its famously booming economy. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, unemployment among all college grads there hovers at close to 30%. To trim those numbers, education officials have set a cutoff: Any major that has two consecutive years during which the employment rate for its graduates is below 60% will face the ax.

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How would a Chinese-style program play out in the U.S.? Well, to begin with, there are no majors in America with 40% unemployment rates. The major with the worst unemployment record, clinical psychology, tops out at a comparatively minor 19.5%. The other top 10 unemployment majors -- miscellaneous fine arts, U.S. history, library science, educational psychology, military technologies, architecture, industrial and organizational psychology, miscellaneous psychology, and linguistics -- have unemployment rates ranging between 10.2% and 16.2%. For that matter, the unemployment rate among recent U.S. college graduates -- while historically high -- is 9.7% -- that's less than a third of China's rate.

Chinese academics have begun fighting against the move, but the country's students have already been voting with their feet. While America has always been an international education destination, the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. has exploded. In 2011, their numbers swelled to 128,000 -- 30% more than the previous year. And with educational options dwindling in China, it seems likely that the flood will continue. In other words, the world's largest exporter may soon be ramping up another product line: liberal arts majors.

For a full list of majors, unemployment rates and earnings, click here.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.