Eye on Education

Some Students Opt for Odd Majors, Others Worry About Their Job Prospects

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Bowling Green State University in Northwest Ohio claims to be the only place in the nation offering Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Popular Culture.

If you’re really into studying the history of the Indonesian heavy metal scene, or perhaps you’d rather spend your days analyzing golf swings, then college may be the place for you!

There’s a proliferation of unorthodox college majors in Ohio and nationwide.

Students seem to like the new range of classes, but critics worry they don’t guarantee the best jobs or biggest paychecks.

Students at Ohio State University’s Professional Golf Management Program often get the same question: “is that a real major?”

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Bailey Stolarsky will graduate with her professional golf management degree this coming August.

Fourth year golf management major Bailey Stolarsky says she’s used to telling people, “yes, yes it is and obviously everyone thinks it’s awesome.”

Awesome, maybe, Stolarsky says people still have their doubts about its practicality.

“Just because it’s unfamiliar or maybe new doesn’t mean it’s any less credible than the next major,” says Stolarsky. “Obviously pre-med and pre-law and whatever you want to say are the standard difficult majors and that’s great but I’ve certainly challenged myself since I’ve been here.”

Stolarsky says she did worry that studying golf management would be too specialized and limit her job prospects, but learned that it’s actually quite a diverse program. It includes classes on sports, business, marketing, and hospitality management.

Still, there is quite a bit that’s specific to golf, like learning to build your own golf club from scratch.

Then there’s the Popular Culture program at Bowling Green State University, just south of Toledo.

The program boasts that it is the only place in the country where you can get a bachelor’s and master’s in Pop Culture.

In a recent class, students discussed the merits of zombie kittens of the porcelain variety.

Students here are adamant that this is a tough major.  They bristle at suggestions it lacks academic rigor.  It’s not just watching You Tube videos; it’s analyzing them and writing extensively about popular culture theories.

Still, senior Becky Dennis concedes there are some concerns about its economic value.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

BGSU Popular Culture students Emily Davis, Becky Dennis, Jacob Brown and Brittany Knisely say they're proud not to have "copped out" and gone for safer degrees. They hope to work as librarians, professors, or museum curators.

“There definitely is a question of what can you do with a pop culture major, but there’s a question at this point of what can you do with a social sciences or humanities major,” Dennis says.

Bowling Green career counselor Kacee Ferrell Snyder encourages students to follow their dreams, even if there’s a less clear career path for say, English or Philosophy majors.

Ferrell Snyder says she still believes that “you should do what you love to do and you should major what you love because if that person had majored in business instead of English for example, probably wouldn’t have done very well in her classes, I’m guessing, probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much, and so what kind of college experience is that?”

But Lou Horner with the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services has a different take.

Horner says, “I understand that point of view but I would tell people to try to pick up as many skills and experiences as possible.”

Horner is tasked with regularly updating the “Buckeye Top 50,” a list of the high-wage occupations in demand around the state.

Computer and healthcare related jobs dominate the Buckeye Top 50.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Students discuss the intersection of high culture and popular culture through the example of a ceramic zombie cat in a popular culture class at Bowling Green State University.

Of course that doesn’t mean everyone should become a doctor or computer engineer, but Horner says students should be aware of where the jobs are.

He encourages people to take a look at that top 50 list and give it some consideration.

“If they want to be in a particular occupation that’s great,” says Horner. “But they need to know what the level of demand for that occupation is.”

Remember the student theorizing about zombie felines in the Pop Culture class? That was sophomore Brittany Knisely.

She says she’s not too worried about finding a job because “just the fact that you’re getting a college degree is something, because basically you need it to get a job anywhere any more.”

That’s largely true, says Jeff Strohl of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

But Strohl and colleagues say what you take in college is even more important, especially if you want the best job prospects or a big fat paycheck.

Strohl says, “there is immense variation in the specific majors and the returns for specific majors … a petroleum engineer has a median earning of $120,000 and a school psychologist has a median earning of $29,000. I mean it is widely varied.”

According to Strohl’s research, the unemployment rate is lowest for graduates in the healthcare or education industries, though engineers make the most money.

Then again, not everyone is intent on becoming rich, and the world only needs so many petroleum engineers.

Oh, and by the way, Ohio State claims 80 percent of its alumni with golf management degrees is working in that field.



  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1510320568 Lisa Regula

    Let’s remember that colleges and universities are there to offer a liberal arts education- not job training. I think it’s great that students are learning and being exposed to a wide array of topics, that’s what education is about. If you’re in it just to get a job, go to a vocational school, certificate program, or an apprenticeship program. It’s time we stop considering college just a way to get a job.

    • Swisherg

      Try telling that to parents. Why spend a fortune if you can’t pay it off?

      • Ralph Brubaker

        Whose parents are paying 60k for their kid’s degree?
        No one I know. Most of us got loans.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brittknisely Brittany Knisely

    After a 20-minute interview, in which I and 3 of my classmates explain to Ms. Lieszkovszky the many facets of the Popular Culture Department of Bowling Green State University, she seemed to have missed the important things we had to say about our major.
    While some students receive higher education to bring in “big fat paychecks” with a specialized profession, Popular Culture students are, in fact, picking up an array of skills and facilities, such as critically thinking about and analyzing the things that make a people, well, a people.
    This can include the study of Cultural Anthropology, Economics, History, Marketing, Politics, Entertainment, Psychoanalytical Theory, Gender Studies, and Literature, just to name a few. These areas of study happen to be just the things that I have been able to apply to my education here thus far, and I’m only a sophomore!
    Ms. Lieszkovszky also neglected to mention the wide range of occupations that can be associated with a Popular Culture degree, however less generic and available than those described in the “Buckeye Top 50.” Past graduates from BGSU, with a degree in Popular Culture, have claimed occupations such as the curator of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a prominent writer for Marvel Comics in New York City, among others. These may not be jobs that expedite advancements in finding a cure for cancer, but they are by no means meaningless careers.
    Think of your favorite television show. Now think about the empire of advertisement, merchandise, and fandom that are produced from just that television series. Now, think of the people who are behind all of that: are they worthless to our society and economy?
    I understand that a Popular Culture degree is no Engineering degree, but if I wanted to be an engineer, that would have been my major.
    You can tell me that I’m lost in Never Land, or that I’m wasting my money (I pay for my education, too, @Swisherg) on schooling that won’t pay for itself, fine. But I don’t need to justify myself to anyone but myself. We, as the students of the Popular Culture department, only ask that all of the facts are displayed in an unbiased manner- as is the duty of a journalist- before any conclusions are made or presented.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »