Surrounded by dozens of students clicking away on their laptops and flipping through textbooks, Emmanuel Vasquez sits at a booth on the second floor of the USF Library and googles high-paying majors.
“At this point, I’m feeling desperate,” Vasquez said. “Anything that pays off the loans.”
Forty-nine percent of college graduates consider themselves either unemployed or earn low salaries and about half report they are not offered learning experiences that can help advance their potential careers. The number of student loan borrowers as of 2015 has amounted to 43 million, according to Student Loan Hero.
“After resubmitting my FAFSA earlier last week, I realized how financially destructive my degree could be for my future,” Vasquez said. “It’s actually been bugging me for months.”
A common struggle students face during their first years at college is deciding which major to pursue. Most are obligated by the age of 17 to choose a career field and pay thousands of dollars to work towards that degree for four years. The STEM majors — a curriculum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are what many students are leaning towards pursuing in order to make up for their student debt.
Vasquez is a USF sophomore and humanities major, a subject he has had a passion for since a young age. However, he is considering changing his major to business before the spring semester.
“The issue stems from this idea that students believe they won’t be successful unless they work towards high demanding jobs,” Dr. Sean Lyons, doctor of management, said.
Dr. Lyons is a professor and researcher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada who studies career development and expectations of young workers.
“We receive more students who have the potential to be great at subjects they excel at, who then feel they should settle for STEM majors, because they are told that those soft majors they love won’t grant them the income they need,” Dr. Lyons said.
63 percent of college graduates were encouraged to pursue a STEM degree in 2015, according to the Accenture Strategy 2015 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study.
Pablo Alava, a social studies teacher at Guinta Middle School in Brandon, said that the problem is created during early education.
“Things like standardized testing and mandatory grade requirements damage the ability for kids to be creative in things that aren’t generic subjects,” Alava said. “You have a kid who isn’t great at math but is a skill-born musician, and then he gets held back a year and is told that he is incompetent.”
Alava, who has been teaching since 2011 and has a master’s degree in education, has almost finished paying off his student debt.
“I graduated with flying colors and I still needed to depend on the money my parents helped me with as well, as connections I thankfully had from people I knew,” Alava said. “That is how you really make it after college. It’s all about the connections.”
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York states that 62 percent of recent college graduates are working in jobs that require a degree, yet only 27 percent are working in a job that relates to their major.
JoEllen Tharp, a mass communications student adviser for USF, considers the college experience to be a fair game. Most students are required to build connections within their college experiences, as well as complete internships and extracurricular activities.
“You have to maintain that balance of doing what you love, and also being realistic with what your outlook is and what your degree can offer, and make sure that you’re bringing in things to your resume to balance that out,” Tharp said. “Students need to make sure that they are ready to work in multiple fields until they reach the point that their passion and profession can sustain them.”
When it comes to their current jobs, about 53 percent of all employed college graduates in their mid-20s and early 30s say they are “very satisfied” at work, according to a recent study done by the Pew Research Center.
“It’s conflicting, choosing between being happy because I love my job, or being happy because I’m at peace with the money I make,” Vasquez said. “I just want all the money spent and work done to be worth it in the end.”