Speaking at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin, President Obama said skilled manufacturing or the trades pays as well as an art history degree.
It was “a cheap shot at the favorite punching bag of people who deride higher education in general and the liberal arts in particular, writes Virginia Postrel.
“Almost no one majors in art history,” she points out. Those who do are tackling “an intellectually demanding” and “famously elitist” major.
In fact, the reason pundits instinctively pick on art history is that it is seems effete. It’s stereotypically a field for prep school graduates, especially women, with plenty of family wealth to fall back on. In fact, a New York Times analysis of Census data shows that art history majors are wildly overrepresented among those in the top 1 percent of incomes. Perhaps the causality runs from art history to high incomes, but I doubt it.
If the president had been serious about his message, he would have compared learning a skilled trade to majors that are actually popular, such as communications and psychology. It would have been much braver and more serious to take on the less-rigorous majors that attract lots of students. But it wouldn’t have gotten a laugh.
Obama is promoting “job-driven training,” which means training for jobs that exist. That does sound like a good idea.
Vice President Joe Biden will lead a review of the many federal job training programs. The Government Accountability Office reviewed federal job training programs in 2011, but perhaps more have been created since then.