Jack Ohman

Majors in ag-econ, poly science and history made him what he is today

As graduation looms for many young and some middle-aged Californians, my esteemed colleague Phillip Reese, the newsroom’s data cruncher by way of an English major at North Carolina State, writes that the most lucrative degrees are the ones you would expect.

Engineering, business, mathematics, French, health sciences, and computer science lead the pack for Californians under 35 making over $50K per year. Not French, actually, though it’s a lovely language.

An unusually chirpy Uber driver in Portland, Ore., told me the other day he had majored in French, although he didn’t have much use for it.

“Pourquoi?” I inquired. Or maybe I said: “Por qué?” I took Spanish, not French.

Not a lot of French people around, he said, with a certain lack of joie de vivre. He said he smoked a lot of pot and listened to podcasts, which is kind of a job in Portlandia. Laissez les bons temps rouler, I say.

The notion that one specific degree or another leads to empirically (that’s a college word) testable success is sketchy. But it’s true those majors are the most in demand.

My eldest son, a Portland State community development major, noted that a brilliant friend of his, who went to Bard-Georgetown Law-London School of Economics, is considering teaching high school. Good for him, bad for his loan repayment schedule.

Philosophy-religion majors ranked at the bottom in Reese’s story. My view is that we could use a few more philosophers because they view life ironically.

Gov. Jerry Brown, UC Berkeley-classics-Yale Law, makes great use of his major subject, although his audience is usually more attuned to Netflix than classics.

Some people I know have gone directly into jobs from their major subjects as young people and stayed in their lane. I didn’t. My first major at the University of Minnesota was agricultural economics.

Some of my less-enthralled readers would say some of my work is, agriculturally speaking, fertilizer-based. But my tiny exposure to my first major made me appreciative of how ag markets work.

I switched to political science, a truly oxymoronic major that can lead to jobs in, well, Not Political Science. How often does the Bundestag, the Bretton Woods Agreement or the Commerce Clause come up in conversation? All the time on an editorial page, along with the odd Norm the Cat remark.

By the time I got around to actually finishing college, at 38, I had switched to history, which has served me well when someone is desperate for an amusing tidbit about the Works Progress Administration. Who isn’t?

My majors helped make me the cartoonist I am today. So all you computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers, enjoy your $50K-plus jobs.

I’ll be here drawing cartoons about the classics major from Berkeley as I ponder the New Deal with my history degree. Oh. Can you guys send some money? I still have kids in college. Edited by Dan Morain, College of San Mateo-Humboldt State, journalism-social sciences.

Jack Ohman: 916-321-1911, @JACKOHMAN