Why should a student spend 40+ hours/week studying math and physics for 4 or more years? A typical student could study 5-10 hours/week in business or some such for 4 years and start at twice the salary of a physics major, that's assuming the physics major can get a job with a 4-year degree. Most physics majors who do get caught by the physics bug will go on to pursue a masters, doctorate, then do two years as a postdoc only to start at 50-60K. They will then find their buddy who did a two year Vo-Tech degree in network administration, who did little homework, has been making between 40-100K while he/she was in school. Where is the incentive to study these long hours? While the business folks are traveling the world spending their new salaries, our physics students are in a basement lab trying to understand Ertel's theorem and its relationship to the conservation of material vorticity.
Physics and engineering careers are not the glorified fields they were in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Computer science and business are, this is where the action and money is. Yes, it would be nice if students came to school for the sake of knowledge, but they don't, they and their parents want to know, where is the money.
I found it interesting that the local engineering school is currently being called the business school by most of the students. This has to due with the advection of students out of engineering and into business. What do the long hours in engineering really get them, better job satisfaction?
Society has dictated that education is the way to $$$, not knowledge. Until we change societies view i.e. parents views, how can we hope to change our students view on education. Parents now expect their children will graduate from high school. Administrators and teachers are being forced by the parents to lower their standards so all students can graduate. We like to blame the education failure on teachers, but we parents have brought this on ourselves. We want our children to have money, and to have money, a degree sure can help. These same expectations are now becoming prevalent in the community and four year colleges. This expectation that all will succeed has driven the dumbing down of education at all levels. Administrators and teachers are forced to bow to this demand that all will graduate, and in most instances they do graduate. Which instructors do most administrators tend to reward? The teacher whose class is always full, where mostly A's and B's are given out, or the instructor who demands the most out of his students thus having lower grades and fewer students. Larger classes mean more money, higher grades mean less administration problems and so it goes.
Now what to do about physics enrollment? What to do about grades? How about physics students studying? WelI, I don't have any answers, but thinking students should study physics for its inherent beauty doesn't seem to be working. I found an article in a recent Physics Today quite interesting. It alluded to the fact that Asian graduate students are opting to transfer out of physics and into computer science. Surprise. Surprise. Wonder what would happen if industry started paying salaries that were compensatory to a physics coarse load? Wonder what would happen if industry lured physics majors to work with a new Porsche as some law firms do recent law graduates? How do we convince industry our physics majors are worth this and more? Maybe if we could, then we might be able to convince our physics students to stay around and study the 3+ hours per class lecture most of us expect and not have to worry about dumbing down our curriculum.