The Value of My UCLA Degree

In recent news, questions have been raised as to the value of a college education and degree (also here), and if college is challenging enough. In fiscal terms, the most valuable degrees are those in the sciences and the least valuable are those in the arts. Economists and students worry about the increased cost of college over the decreasing pay rate due to the staggering economy. Sociologists are worried about the state of education in a society where students view college as a social experience and not as means to advance their intellect. There is concern over an increase in universities seeming to care more about admissions rates, statistics, student housing, and things to put on brochures rather than providing their students with stimulating, substance-filled education. An excellent overview of these issues can be found at the New Yorker.

All of this media attention and debate has led me to wonder: What is the value of my UCLA degree? Is it measured in salary figures, job prospects, desirability, or popularity? Who determines its value and measure? The institution? Employers? … Me?

Me.

If to no others, to me my degree is worth more than any salary figure, mainstream status, or job market trend. My degree from UCLA is a representation that I have acquired vast knowledge of the world – its histories, ideologies, languages, economies. I have been ridiculed for my major choice, even though my degree is intrinsically interdisciplinary. I can’t tell you how many times people have commented, “Art history? What is that? Can you even do anything with that?” — I understand such questions stem from lack of knowledge about the field of art history, but the questions continue even after explaining the nature of the field. How will you find a job? Who will hire you? How can you possibly make money? As if lack of faith in my choices wasn’t bad enough, to add salt to the wound I was told at least twice – “Art history is fruitless. You should be a doctor.”

A degree that focuses solely on pursuit of knowledge, on creating knowledge, meets most people I speak to with confusion. And yet, money is not the most important thing in this world. Money comes and goes, and I am not materialistic enough to constantly need money to buy things that I don’t need. A simple, wise, thought-filled, love-filled life is all I want, and my B.A. in Art History is a means to provide this. Art history gives my mind peace and sends my intellect soaring. In just my undergrad years alone, I managed to fill half a notebook worth of art historical theories that I intend to explore, prove, or disprove in graduate school.

A life where I am writing, teaching, learning, exploring, theorizing, and most of all, spending time with my husband, is The Ideal. Teaching others about the times, events and art that I am so passionate about would be a dream come true – to explain through example the value of the critical mind, the value of art, the value of history… this is the end of my degree. My degree is invaluable. No one can take the knowledge and passions I’ve gained from it away from me. Money, jobs, or lack thereof cannot and will not stop me from pursuing art history. Even in my current job, where my degree has little relevance, I am writing, thinking, drafting essays and lectures and refining my ideas. If anything, my job is the strongest impetus to get out and strive even more forcefully, unflinchingly, for the Ideal.

Popularity did not deter me from choosing art history. Our department was small, with rumors among us students that many faculty would be leaving or retiring as budget cuts increased. The classmates I knew were not as driven as I was for creating knowledge, but, characteristic of UCLA students, they were excellent in their work. Most people I knew at UCLA  were majors in the sciences, and they had their own brilliance, which I could never fathom. Art history was not, and probably will not ever be, popular as a major; in the mainstream; in the top earning percentile of college graduates. But this is missing the point of the field. Art historians, I hope, would rarely become such to seek fame and fortune. Rather, art historians are driven by a love of art, of history, of seeking meaning and forging new paths to explore yet undiscovered ideas or controversial, old, historic ones. Art historians discover truth about art, artists, art production; how art influences religion and war; how art reveals past taboos and past ideals. Art historians are tasked with a special assignment: to uncover and speak about why art, history, religion, geography, and wars intersect; to explain the expansive, ancient relationship between the art humans create and their actions and desires; to illuminate that art is languageless and can be understood by all cultures and people if they so desire and seek to understand.

My degree sets me on the path to becoming one of these incredible scholars. A PhD will slowly and carefully mold me into such a scholar. The charge that the field of art history gives me is greater than promises of wealth, school ratings, or what people would say about my academic choices. The preparation that I received at the University of California, Los Angeles was priceless, rigorous, and unforgiving. The faculty generously shared their wisdom, interests, eyes, ears, voices, and time with me. And now, I’m ready. I’m ready to fight intellectual battles, to discover new things, to spur discussion, to fail, to learn, to teach, and to lead.

I am a UCLA graduate. My degree from this institution represents that I graduated a True Bruin, with the virtues of Integrity, Excellence, Accountability, Respect  and Service in tact. As an Honors student, I strived for excellence and attained it, even if it was difficult. I created knowledge under the protective wings of my professors. I formed friendships with professors who I hope to one day also call ‘colleague.’ I was among peers and constantly challenged to do better and to be better.

So, dear media, money has no say in the value of my degree, nor was university “not challenging enough,” and certainly not only a social gathering. My degree, my university, and my lips testify to this.

The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth. – John F. Kennedy