As a Return-on-Investment mindset plows through higher education like Sherman’s 1864 March to the Sea, legislators, parents, and students are increasingly asking, “How will a bachelor’s degree in ________ translate into a a well-paying job after graduation?” It’s not enough anymore to simply tell Art History majors that they can use their department’s extensive alumni network to obtain part-time employment arranging window displays of hand-painted postcards in a Wiscasset, Maine gift shop.
Colleges and universities are feverishly scrambling to come up with programs and majors that promise a more secure financial future to vocationally obsessed students and their families. For schools that are struggling with this challenge, I offer the following 6-step plan for building a new degree program in less than 72 hours. The plan is accompanied by a real-life example that can easily be generalized to other domains.
STEP 1: Identify an activity that human beings are currently being paid to perform (e.g., cooking french fries at a fast-food restaurant).
STEP 2: Think of every conceivable topic associated with this activity and develop one or more 3-credit courses for each topic. Let’s pursue the french-fry example.
HS 101 The Potato from Antiquity to the Industrial Revolution
ECON 212 Tuber-Based Economies and the Irish Potato Famine
MATH 103 One Potato, Two Potato: Mathematics for French Fry Majors
SOC 489 Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head: Gender Politics in Popular Culture
ME 317 Scooping Dynamics in Fry-Bagging: Wrist Movements
ME 318 Scooping Dynamics in Fry-Bagging: Thumb Positioning
PHIL 233 Hand-Cut vs. Machine-Sliced: Current Debates
PS 304 Studies in Leadership: Ray Kroc
PHIL 610 Extra Salt, High Blood Pressure, and The Nicomachean Ethics of Consumer Choice
HUM 220 Curly, Krinkle-Kut, or Wedge? New Directions in Fry Aesthetics
BIO 375 Heat Lamps, Hot Fries, and Cancer
PSYC 704 Taterphobia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
MUS 421 Spud Sounds: Dee Dee Sharp and “Mashed Potato Time”
STEP 3: Take any 10 of the courses you’ve established and declare a major (treat remaining courses as electives). Pay attention to sequencing (e.g., ME 317 should be a prerequisite for ME 318). Be sure to select a catchy name for the major (e.g., BFF: Bachelor’s in French Frying)
STEP 4: Put as many of these courses online as you can. In general, students who pursue a BFF are not people you want to meet in person.
STEP 5: Require an unpaid internship as part of the program in order to provide students with “real-world” experience (easy to accomplish with the BFF).
STEP 6: You’re done! Announce the program and watch the tuition roll in!
IMPORTANT: Offering a BFF program will only lead to an increase in the wage rates of french-fry employees if it is accompanied by passage of state regulations that require all such workers to be certified, licensed holders of a BFF degree. Contact your local legislator, as well as your school’s legal counsel, for lobbying advice.