You’re reading the latest issue of The Edge, a weekly newsletter by Goldie Blumenstyk. Sign up here to get her insights on the people, trends, and ideas that are reshaping higher education.

I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

Skills matter more than the major. A million job profiles prove it.

My usual advice to college students is: Major in something you like. Last week Michelle Obama offered similar guidance to first-generation college students at a Beating the Odds Summit in Washington, D.C. (She also advised them not to rush the choice: “You should pick a major you’re excited about, and you’re not going to know that for a couple of years.”)

Now I’m pleased to report that a new analysis that examined the first, second, and third jobs of nearly one million professionals shows that neither of us is full of it.

Frankly, I’m a bit relieved, too. It’s nice to know that the data — crunched by the labor-market-analytics company EMSI — show that this follow-your-heart advice has held true, even as the economy has shifted and as students face increasing family and public pressure to pick majors that might seem to have the most practical payoffs.

By following the actual career paths of real people, EMSI found that “the outcome of the English major looks pretty similar to the outcome of the business major,” as Rob Sentz, the company’s chief innovation officer, told me. In other words, said Sentz, your major “doesn’t doom you to a fixed path.”

The reason? EMSI’s analysis found that the very skills held by those who had majored in English — or philosophy or social sciences or business or communications — seemed to have prepared them well for jobs in fields like sales, marketing, training, and management, which are all now in high demand.

For anyone interested in tracing the work trajectory of 750,000-plus people from those majors, compared with the 162,000-plus who majored in more-applied fields like health care, engineering, and IT, “Degrees at Work: Examining the Serendipitous Outcomes of Diverse Degrees” includes just enough of those snakey-looking graphics to make your eyes cross. (I did find that the more I stared at them, the easier they were to follow — and the outcomes are fascinating.)

But more important than all of that are the lessons that colleges should take from the findings.

As they see the kinds of jobs students from various majors land, the report recommends that colleges become “more proactive about communicating these outcomes.” It also calls on colleges to think about curricula from a “skills” perspective, and create “skills-based transcripts to help students understand not just the subject matter they studied but the skills acquired or exercised in class.”

The “badges” movement that I’ve written about before in this newsletter is one formal way to carry out those ideas. But there are also ways to do it in less-formal ways in classroom settings. I realize that means getting a lot more faculty members on board. And while that might seem like a, uh, cultural challenge, it shouldn’t be. If anything, it seems like the doorway to a win-win opportunity, especially for fields (like my long-ago major, history) that are now facing enrollment declines. Show students that the majors they like are also majors that can lead to good jobs, and everybody wins.

Or, as Sentz put it: People are landing in good jobs from a variety of majors, but “it’s happening without a lot of intentionality.” Now that “we can see this in the data,” he asked, “can we talk about it a little more?”

Quote of the week.

“The textbook industry, once a robust market with a multitude of competing publishers, is now dominated by a handful of giants.”

—Open Markets Institute and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund

From a letter to the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice in which the organizations and eight other groups and individuals urge the federal government to block the planned merger between Cengage and McGraw-Hill.

Following up on the pipeline from college to public service.

Last week’s newsletter, on how colleges can help repair the broken talent pipeline to government service, resonated with many readers. Here’s some of what I heard:

Jason Tyszko, vice president of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, wrote to say that while the “talent pipeline management” program at his organization had not previously worked with any government bodies, it was now interested in seeing how it might connect with the Volcker Alliance’s Government-to-University Initiative. Ditto for another chamber-foundation project, called the Job Data Exchange, which encourages employers to post jobs in a common machine-readable format.

Dave Seliger described his efforts on this issue when working for the Office of the Mayor of New York City, in 2016, and later founding a nonprofit group to carry out the work. He designed a model “that would essentially ‘backdoor’ public-university students into local civil-service systems in a Teach for America meets work-force-development method,” Seliger wrote. Ultimately, the lack of philanthropic support drove him to fold the nonprofit. But the work did help lead to the Civil Service Pathways Fellowship, a partnership between the city and the City University of New York.

“I’m sure your readers would appreciate learning about an actual solution to the government talent crisis — and something their own institutions could easily implement!” he wrote. Seliger called the fellowship, now on its second 25-person cohort, the city’s “best-kept secret.” The only press it’s gotten, he said, was in a union newspaper.

And then, with a pointed reality check, there was this, from Mark Lafer, who spent most of his 41 years in professional life in government-funded organizations. “When I started my career,” he wrote, “I along with most others recognized that we were making a trade-off. We would earn less than we might in the private sector, but could sleep well at night and look forward to a secure, comfortable retirement. Today those making the choice recognize that they will likely make much less, have sleep disrupted by memories of ridicule from those they strive to serve, and are subject to the vagaries of the stock market when planning for retirement.”

At least in his home state of Pennsylvania, Lafer said, the hits to public employees’ salaries, health care, and retirement benefits “have made government work an increasingly poor decision.”


As you may have read, Corbin Gwaltney, the founder and owner of The Chronicle (and The Chronicle of Philanthropy), died this week at age 97. In recent years he wasn’t active in our newsroom, but I still have vivid memories of my early years here, when he would edit my stories and I’d nervously wait to see if I had earned a coveted “Fine piece –cg” note at the top.

Corbin and I had our occasional moments, but overall he unflaggingly supported me and my work here, and for that, and the incredible opportunities of this job, I will be forever grateful. I’m also enormously proud to be part of the news organization that he had the vision to create. I’ll miss his passion for politics, his disgust for injustice, and even his love of puns. But his legacy lives on in the work all of us do every day. I know he’d be pleased with that.

Got a tip you’d like to share, or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, or sign up to receive your own copy, you can do so here.