More On Majors And Why Chicano Studies Is Garbage

A frequent topic of discussion in my family is what university, what major and the return to investment my sister should pursue after finishing high school. My dad is a man of modest means and is the only bread winner in a family of five – 3 children of which, have yet to pursue a college degree. Aside from the financial help I provide, he has nobody else to rely on. My families situation is not that different from other minorities, at some point – regardless of grants and financial aid – you have to weigh the trade-offs and cost/benefit of sending your child off to college.

Long time readers of this blog know my position, which is fundamentally that the two most important variables are: what major you choose and the grades you get. Everything else is secondary at best and more likely irrelevant. I’m so extreme in my beliefs that I advised my dad that unless my sister chooses something in the hard sciences, he refuse to pay for her education (she would still be able to get her own grants, financial aid and his blessing – just not his money).  Also, despite the fact that my sister went to a good public school (my parents fake their address),  took advanced classes – AP and honors Math, Physics, English, History etc – and finished near the top of her class, I still advised her to go to a Cal State. Even the relatively cheap cost of the UC’s, had she applied (to avoid the temptation, she didn’t even apply) and been accepted, would not have been worth the costs, IMHO. The hiring premium between say a Berkeley student and a Cal Poly student is not that much (trust me, I’ve done interviews for my company) and it certainly doesn’t cover the long term debt difference the two schools would leave the student with (debt that comes not just from the tuition but also the living costs of living in the area). Factor in years of experience and, I strongly believe,  in the long run there is no difference between the two schools that cannot be attributed to personal characteristics (IQ, work ethic, connections, etc).

This is one of the main disagreements I have with Chicano Studies and the culture it creates for minorities entering college. A year or so ago I wrote:

One of the many things I dislike about Chicano Studies as a major is its over emphasis on “nonprofit activism” vs “personal interest”. In the status circles of Chicano Studies students, you are admired more for your desire to ‘build a community outreach center for disadvantaged children’ than for say, getting an engineering degree and ‘making the big bucks’….a kid from the ghetto is taking an enormous risk by accepting a low salary. They are, in effect, “putting all their eggs in one basket”. And unless they are the lucky ones, they are doomed to rear their next generation of children in the very same environment they were raised in.

I called it a luxury of the rich to pursue a college degree based solely on personal interest and void of personal gain. Some of my friends disagreed then. Some of my friends disagree now. They think I am too harsh in my advice on my sister. They think instead she should be able to ‘pursue her dreams and interests’ as if all family situations were the same (remember, my dad has finite dollars – every dollar spent on my sister is one less he can spend on the rest of the family…a high return is a necessity, not a luxury).

Well, for those who still disagree I point you to this well written advice column in The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s not completely related but it still hints at the same conclusions and remarks I mentioned before – only better written and communicated. The full article really should be read in full but for those of you short on time, I quote below his concluding remarks:

As things stand, I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities:

  • You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.
  • You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.
  • You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.
  • You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.

Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. Everyone else who does so is taking an enormous personal risk, the full consequences of which they cannot assess because they do not understand how the academic-labor system works and will not listen to people who try to tell them.

It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource. For universities, the impact of graduate programs on the lives of those students is an acceptable externality, like dumping toxins into a river. If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault. It will make you feel ashamed, and you will probably just disappear, convinced it’s right rather than that the game was rigged from the beginning.

But please do read the article in full. It can be found here.

17 Responses to “More On Majors And Why Chicano Studies Is Garbage”


  • your post was excellent. thank you for stating so succinctly something so true. your sister would be wise indeed to listen to you.

  • Good post!

    …why la raza can’t grasp this is beyond me.

  • You know how much I hate to agree with you, but I’ve always been on your side with this one. Only white people should major in chicano studies.

  • What really is great about the hard sciences is it is in their very nature to question assumptions. That’s kind of how progress is made. There’s no way to avoid it with science. The humanities on the other hand have little incentive to do that. It would be great if they did. Much of what you learn though is simply taken for granted. I tend to think that students benefit from studying things like engineering not just because these are professions that are in good demand, but also because you are better off learning in an environment that to a greater extent encourages free thought.

  • HP,

    Awesome post. As someone who has worked in journalism for almost a decade, your posts regarding college majors and lower-income college-bound youth really hit home for me.

    Born and raised in the projects, I’d always had this dream of changing the way minorities were portrayed in the news by pursuing a career in journalism. I was applauded by guidance counselors and teachers, who all agreed that the mainstream media was dominated by Anglos. Becoming a full-time journalist was the only reason I bothered to finish college. Through an internship at a local weekly newspaper, I was able to eventually get work at the same paper as a sports editor, then a staff reporter and ultimately a freelancer. Because I didn’t have a degree and my academic obligations kept me from putting in as many hours as my Caucasian colleagues, I was paid less than the other reporters.

    Few people are aware that journalism, especially on the entry level, pays editors and staff reporters a flat weekly rate to put together that week’s or that day’s edition of the news. When I started back in 2000, staff reporters earned maybe $15-$25K a year, and editors earned $25-$30K. Not that great considering the job requires a four-year degree and a car, a luxury so expensive in New York City that few New Yorkers even own a car (I’m 31 years old and STILL have never had a driver’s license). Some weeks we put in maybe 50 to 60 hours, meaning if you divide the flat rate salary by the number of hours worked, some weeks we’d earn less than minimum wage.

    Since journalists were not really required to be journalism majors (you can pretty much major in anything and get a job in the media), and the local public senior college that offered journalism rejected my application, I saw no problem with going to another senior college and majoring in sociology, plus I reasoned that since many of the journalism I’d worked alongside at the newspaper were making the same rookie mistakes as myself, majoring in journalism would probably not make me a better journalist. I originally majored in English, but soon found my skills in real-world writing did not help in an environment that pushed for the academic style of writing. Sociology seemed relatively easy, and the major was six credits fewer than English, a stupid reason to choose a major. Because of the abundance of people looking for work in the media, even small newspapers could afford to be picky and pay them as little as possible.

    The first newspaper I worked at was in Queens, and not only was I the only nonwhite person in that journalism department but also the only one who wasn’t Jewish. Groups like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists interpret the racial disparity in America’s newsrooms as proof that there is still racism in the hiring process, that there is one last glass ceiling to shatter. In reality, it took seven years working at four other newspapers as an editor and later, a freelancer to understand the racial disparity in newsrooms had less to do with racism (although there is plenty of that in the industry) and more to do with the fact that middle- and upper-class people whose parents paid their college expenses and now make their car payments and other expenses are the only people who can afford to work in journalism. Publishers are less likely to come across minority applicants because the wages are too low and the hours too long to merit having gone to college. But me, I was in this fantasy world, egged on by professors, family and friends who saw my career choice as taking the higher road and performing a noble public service, and it took me seven years to wake up.

    If I knew back then what I know now, I wouldn’t have even gone to college, choosing perhaps a trade school instead. I always hated college, not only because I was always a good writer, and it was practice, not college classes, that have made me the skilled writer I am today.

    I am reminded of one of your posts, HP, in which either your father or your uncle tells you, “deja eso para los ricos.” Truer words were never said. It’s great that you’re advising your sister on choosing a major, and no, your dad shouldn’t pay one dime if she makes the same mistake I did.

  • INTOO,

    Thanks and good luck on your future career. I still need to make that trip to NY.

  • You are so right. Most of us come from the poor side of the tracks and it will always be like that unless we wake-up.

    When I went to the university. white natural science professors worked like fiends to steer hispanic students away from the hard sciences. Even having a hispanic college president could not save us from them.

    We have to work on our children at home. We have no options. Our futures are at risk.

  • Why can’t your sister double major? I did (though not in Chicano studies). I have several friends that majored in Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics AND each picked up a second concentration in Latin American Studies which is the closest thing we had to CS at my university. I think your difference with your sister is deeper than her choice of major. Perhaps you are to blame? My dad is a conservative Republican and I turned out to be a liberal, go figure.

  • CP,

    That’s a good point – double majoring might have solved alot of my objections. But I’d probably still advise against it.

    For three reasons: first, is it really worth the money? Most of the majors I would be interested in (History, Philosophy, Latin American Studies, etc) can be learned outside of academia fairly easily. You don’t need a trained professional to teach you about the history of Latin America. You can go to the library and learn it on your own, at your own pace and far cheaper. Especially today, with the advent of free online education like MIT’s OCW and Berkeley’s webcasts.

    Second, many of those majors are hotbeds for political indoctrination. Many people entering college are vulnerable, have a problem thinking critically, and are easily influenced – throwing them into the hotbed of liberalism might not be the best choice (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you are a lawyer, a professional hotbed of liberalism, and didn’t follow your fathers political path).

    Third, with the above in mind, the only other majors I would find advisable are those that do require some professional training to progress in. Double majoring in another science or even in economics, for example. But even here there are trade-offs. These academic choices involve work, work that is likely to take away from your primary major, and work that in the end might lower your overall primary majors GPA. And since I think the two most important factors for success are picking the right (primary) major and your GPA, in the end it might not be a trade off worth making. But it depends on the individual student and his/her passion for the subject.

  • Just found your blog… great so far. I wish I was given similar advice several years ago. I could have used a lot of advice back then, which was seldom offered. The best I got was that college was good. I think the only good thing my investment in a Poli Sci degree brings is the ability to get an MBA in a few years. A quick cost/benefit analysis of a law degree (including demand for lawyers) steered me to something more practical.

    College isn’t for everybody, I hated it. The jury is still out, but I’m confident I could have gotten far ahead without a degree.

  • “many of those majors are hotbeds for political indoctrination.”

    Your blog is too, but I still read it. ;)

    Ok, I don’t know much about state schools; so if cost increases significantly for a double major than that factor certainly does matter. Where I went to school, we had a core number of classes that were part of the tuition cost. Anything above and beyond was basically free. Thus, there was an incentive to take extra stuff.
    Also I went to a private school that enrolled mostly over-achievers in the first place. Depending on your sister’s aptitude it’s possible to double major and do well in both. But I agree that is not advisable for everybody, yet it does not follow logically that it should be advisable to nobody.

    I was a liberal well before I went to law school. But I’m actually to the right of several of my lawyer buddies.

    I disagree about instruction in the aforementioned fields–there’s a lot more to it. I, for example, became interested in Descartes’ concept of mathesis universalis which but for instruction I may never have come across or understood. Also, philosophy departments are quite conservative in America–you must not know many American philosophers. Lefty philosophers tend to come out of France. That’s why many leftist American academics love Michel Foucault to death (not me). I went to a very conservative school that is a hotbed of free market thinking. That does not mean that I have been indoctrinated in it. It all depends on the quality of the school and the faculty. Some schools just suck at teaching people to think for themselves…period. That goes for science too.

  • “many of those majors are hotbeds for political indoctrination.”

    Your blog is too, but I still read it. ;)

    Ok, I don’t know much about state schools; so if cost increases significantly for a double major than that factor certainly does matter. Where I went to school, we had a core number of classes that were part of the tuition cost. Anything above and beyond was basically free. Thus, there was an incentive to take extra stuff.
    Also I went to a private school that enrolled mostly over-achievers in the first place. Depending on your sister’s aptitude it’s possible to double major and do well in both. But I agree that is not advisable for everybody, yet it does not follow logically that it should be advisable to nobody.

    I was a liberal well before I went to law school. But I’m actually to the right of several of my lawyer buddies.

    I disagree about instruction in the aforementioned fields–there’s a lot more to it. I, for example, became interested in Descartes’ concept of mathesis universalis which but for instruction I may never have come across or understood. Also, philosophy departments are quite conservative in America–you must not know many American philosophers. Lefty philosophers tend to come out of France. That’s why many leftist American academics love Michel Foucault to death (not me). I went to a very conservative school that is a hotbed of free market thinking. That does not mean that I have been indoctrinated in it. It all depends on the quality of the school and the faculty. Some schools just suck at teaching people to think for themselves…period. That goes for science too.

  • CP,

    Sorry about the spam filter. Hopefully I’ve recovered all of your comments. Feel free to let me know if you want me to delete duplicate posts.

    A couple of points: first, state schools usually dont charge you more for double majoring, but they do charge you more per class. Either way, the cost factor is a factor.

    Second, I think you are mistaken on your claim that “philosophy departments are quite conservative in America”. Though I dont know many philosophers, my general impression is that they are left leaning. This post also seems to confirm my suspicions.

    Third, engineering in the Muslim world is a whole different story. Winterspeak, a middle easterner himself, explains it well here.

  • I was actually just teasing you about the terrorist thing ;)

    The post you link refers to departments in the U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K. and the Continent. The author argues that libertarianism has made great strides when you note the other humanities departments which have very leftist orientations. Canada is way more egalitarian than the U.S. as is continental Europe. I’ll bet you that the libertarian trending/less lefty status of philosophy compared to other departments is because of the more conservative American departments. If you subtract the other countries, I bet the 2:1 factor would diminish.

  • why do you dislike Focault? @Coackroach People

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