Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton had some odd advice last week for college students in Kentucky.
“I would not be studying history. Unless you have a job lined up,” she said Thursday at Eastern Kentucky University, according to the student newspaper, The Eastern Progress.
Hampton’s belief is that a student should pick a major that’s most likely to land them a job immediately after graduation. She favors, for example, engineering. Her philosophy apparently doesn’t account for students who are actually interested in studying history because they believe we can learn something from understanding the past. Hampton’s thinking follows that of Gov. Matt Bevin, who said earlier this year students shouldn’t expect any tuition assistance if they want to study French literature.
I recall a time in high school when history and English were just about the only subjects that interested me. Without them, I might have been completely adrift. Thank goodness people like Marvin Denison (who was my high school history teacher and is still teaching at University Heights Academy) didn’t listen to the advice of someone like Hampton when they set out for college. I’m not sure who Bevin and Hampton think we should be preparing for teaching positions in Kentucky’s high schools.
History and English gave me a shot at an academic life beyond high school. I eventually majored in English and journalism in college, but I could have just as easily headed for the history department. In fact, sometimes I regret that I didn’t. I can only imagine how the governor and lieutenant governor would feel about sociology or anthropology — just to name a couple of other useless college majors that would have been a good match for me.
Some brains thrive on history, art and literature. Some groove on engineering, math and science. A lucky few do it all.
But Hampton’s idea that students need to beat a path to the perceived money-making majors, such as engineering, is terrible advice for young Kentuckians whose interests and talents tend toward studying the arts or social sciences.
Hampton also questioned whether students should be getting help in paying tuition.
“Those of us who go to work must give part of their earnings to put you through college, and I disagree with that,” she told the student journalists at EKU.
I don’t agree with Hampton about college aid, but her opinion on that topic did not surprise me. Her opinion of the history major did, though.
There are many paths for people who study history. Some students who earn a bachelor’s or advanced degree in history become journalists (we’ve had some in our newsroom). Some have careers as lawyers, publishers, writers, filmmakers, nonprofit managers, museum executives or other pursuits.
In 2013, the American Historical Association released the results of a study of job prospects for history majors. Researchers randomly selected 2,500 doctorate degree recipients from 10,976 history dissertations completed between 1998 and 2009. About half of the 2,500 PhDs were working in tenure-track jobs at four-year universities and about 15 percent were in non-tenure track positions. But only a tiny number didn’t have a job.
“The overall employment rate for history PhDs was exceptionally high: only two people in the sample appeared unemployed, and none of them occupied the positions that often serve as punch lines for jokes about humanities PhDs — as baristas or short order cooks,” the researchers wrote.
Maybe the best advice for young Kentuckians headed to college is to ignore the advice of Bevin and Hampton when they are exploring majors.
JENNIFER P. BROWN is the New Era’s opinion editor. Reach her at 270-887-3236 or email@example.com.