This article went massively rival, having been shared multiple times on Reddit and elsewhere: The inescapable weight of my $100,000 student debt
It ends on a somewhat positive note, with the author becoming an editor for The New York Times, but he says he will not pay his debt off until 2032, when he turns 44. So that is pretty bad–it means the most productive years of his life will be weighed by this debt. It would seem like getting into so much debt for a literature degree was a mistake, or was it? The answer is not so obvious.
On Reddit, this comment stood out, as it agrees with the themes discussed earlier on this blog about how, for millennials, the monastic attainment of knowledge, in and of itself, is commendable and valuable, and such value transcends politics, income, or choice of degree major:
A lot of comments about the degree as such. As someone in STEM I have absolutely no problem with literature as a degree. I Denmark where I am from, people study literature and get hired in all sorts of different fields. It is not all “book reviews” or whatever shit people write here. Studying at university gives you skills that can be applied in a general manner.
Many liberal arts majors are well-aware that, yes, the liberal arts don’t pay as well as STEM yet obtain such degrees anyway, because they really enjoy those subjects, and I can respect that. I’m not going to be like one of those people who says “stupid millennial, you should have majored in STEM!” But they need to be aware that they may be indebted for a long time. Regardless of major, passing a financial literacy test should be required before anyone is allowed to take on a lot of student loan debt, and the borrower must demonstrate that they understand the terms of the loan.
Contrary to the STEM vs. liberal arts dichotomy that pits these two subjects as being locked in a sort of intellectual arms race, as the comment above shows, STEM majors respect the liberal arts and understand that literature, philosophy, and history are bastions of intellectual purity and rigor in a world spoiled by media sensationalism, instant gratification, materialism, and consumerism, and that the liberal arts are valuable to society, but maybe in ways that are more subjective and subtle, than, say, a bigger paycheck or a faster iPhone. But this only applies if the degree is sufficiently intellectually rigorous and not tainted by commercial interests or excessive political moralizing, so ceramics/painting (which is what 4-year-olds do), ‘business’, and ‘white-male-oppression studies’ are out of the question. The patience and intellect required to understand a mathematical formula is little different than the skill and patience required to parse a difficult piece of literature, a philosophical argument, or historical text.
There is also the trend of STEM appropriating the liberal arts. We’re seeing the amalgamation of philosophy and STEM in fields as diverse as computer science, physics, and neurology, such as ‘what is consciousness,’ or ‘is a computer-simulated universe compatible with free will’, and so on…Philosophical concepts such as ontology and epistemology can be treated as the liberal arts-equivalent of category-theory concepts. The work of economists such as Robert Barro and Brad Delong are examples of the interplay of economics and social policy with complicated mathematical concepts, and how the latter complements the former. Economics and finance, while technically not STEM, are close enough in terms of mathematical rigor that they should be included.
But also, given how on Hacker News and other STEM-centric sites, articles about writing seem to constantly go viral, I think many people in STEM don’t just want to appropriate the liberal arts, but want to actually do it. They want to become fiction writers. They want understated how comparative literature works, and how genre fiction differs from literary fiction.
Again, regarding the Reddit comment, in addition to intellectual purity, the degree also grants its holder, regardless of choice of major (provided, as said above, the major is sufficiency intellectually demanding), access to an exclusive ‘social club’ composed of other degree holders. Having a degree allows one, regardless of even politics, to form a sort of connection or bond with other degree holders, united by shared experiences and narratives, and excludes non-degree holders. This ‘club’ has a lifetime membership, so if a graduate is indebted $100,000 by the age of 20, that works out to $140/month for 60 years, which may be worth it if it means additional happiness and confidence that comes from being part of an elite social circle.