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These degrees may have gone cold in Pennsylvania's higher education system

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Fear for the future of the cartography major.

The new head of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education was ominous in his remarks on Thursday regarding the future of the 14 universities he oversees. Chancellor Frank Brogan said that in the face of rising costs, shrinking enrollment and declining subsidies, the system needs to reinvent itself.

Toward that goal, Brogan plans to examine what for generations has been the foundation of a liberal arts education: Programs in which the prospects of obtaining a post-graduation job are as dim as the light of a 25-watt bulb.

The cost of a college education has skyrocketed in recent years. As a result, many parents are questioning the wisdom of spending tens of thousands of dollars only to have their children emerge after four years of rigorous study with a degree that they consider to be — not to use too academic a term — useless.

Brogan appears to be rightfully concerned that parents have begun to steer their kids away from expensive majors that lead to nothing more lucrative than a job manning the cash register at a Famous Footwear. If kids aren't majoring in such programs, a university's reason for offering them dramatically diminishes.

Still, Brogan should proceed cautiously before making any dramatic cuts. The benefits of many majors currently offered at the system's universities might not be immediately obvious, but they certainly exist.

Let's hope Brogan sees the wisdom in keeping:

• Cartography majors

Having been well-educated in map-making, none of them should ever get lost on the way to their local unemployment office.

• Furniture design majors

They're able to design and build an assortment of ornate end tables; the stockpile later can be burned for warmth after the heat is shut off because the bill isn't paid.

• Fashion merchandising majors

Who better would know which of the gently used clothes available at the thrift shop will provide pajama-like comfort for those cold nights sleeping under the highway overpass?

• History majors

They can provide far greater detail on the origins of the restaurant chain that employs them than, say, someone with a cartography degree. “Good evening, my name is Walt, and I'll be your server tonight. Did you know that the first Applebee's opened in 1980 in Decatur, Ga., and was called T.J. Applebee's Rx for Edibles & Elixirs?”

• Philosophy majors

They can bring intellectual gravitas lacking in most soup kitchens by paraphrasing French philosopher Rene Descartes while quieting their growling stomachs. “I eat, therefore I am. Say, buddy, are you gonna finish that roll?”

• Archaeology majors

Compared to others who insisted on pursuing dead-end majors, people possessing this degree are much more adept at digging through Dumpsters for food.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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