How much money would it take to get an English major to switch to engineering? Would a $1,000 discount on tuition every year do the trick? What about $5,000? What if switching majors not only reduced students’ debt load but also made it much more likely that they would find a job after graduation? Would that be enough to change their mind?
Cheaper tuition might motivate some students to tough it out, but Timothy Wilson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, urges schools and policymakers to proceed with caution. “There is some evidence that external incentives lower internal motivation,” he says. “There’s a danger if people are doing something just because it’s cheaper. Engineering is a very challenging field. People need to be really into it — it’s not something you can do just for the money.”
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