The question of what to major in during college will often get another question in response: “Well, what job do you want?” On the surface, it seems that what a person studies in college should relate to his or her planned career path, but it turns out that it’s very hard to predict how those two things will interact with each other.
Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, studies hiring and the American workplace. His latest book, Will College Pay Off?, looks at the complexities of the job market for college graduates as well as the fallacy of treating higher education as job training.
These days, college is still sold as a ticket to the good life, yet many American graduates simply can’t afford to pay back their loans. In his book, Cappelli tackles a fundamental question: Is college a good financial decision?
I recently spoke with Cappelli about how he thinks about college in relation to the job market. The transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Bourree Lam: How did you decide to write this book?
Peter Cappelli: What began to worry me, particularly in the context of education, is the arguments suggesting that it was an unqualified obvious thing that everybody ought to go to college, or that it paid off enormously, and that you were crazy not to go—which just seemed a little odd to me because the evidence about the payoff from college was not completely straightforward.