I also appreciate the exposure I got to many different ways of viewing the world. L&C at the time had a core curriculum that emphasized critical thinking and I took courses in many different subjects that forced me to first understand how each discipline analyzed the world and then think critically about this particular way of looking at the world. These writing and critical thinking skills formed the bedrock of my education, without which subsequent investments in my education would have been worth a lot less.
But that doesn't mean I regret being an economics major, in fact the opposite it true. In addition to being a subject that interested me, Economics taught me to think logically and precisely. When I started to focus on international development, I appreciated this level of intellectual rigor for a subject where there was an endless supply of 'good ideas' but a dearth of critical analysis.
This is all to say that I think this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by David Colander about the popularity of the economics major at liberal arts colleges has it just right. [HT: Greg Mankiw] In it Colander makes this statement:
Companies like to hire economics majors from liberal-arts colleges not because the students have been trained in business, but because they have a solid background in the liberal arts. What I hear from businesspeople is that they don't care what a job candidate has majored in. They want students who can think, communicate orally, write, and solve problems, and who are comfortable with quantitative analysis. They do not expect colleges to provide students with specific training in business skills.
I try and tell my OSU students this, but most choose Business anyway as they see it as a more useful major and a lot easier. It is true that the econ major is hard, at my last job the economics department had the second lowest GPA in its classes (Physics had the lowest), but for me as a student this was part of the point. I was intimidated by it but I wanted to challenge myself as an undergraduate and I think this too served me very well - it forced me to become a much better student which helped me a lot in graduate school. Colander's research shows that rigor is a motivation for other students as well.
Consider the results of another question in my survey. We asked economics students to identify majors as hard, moderate, or easy, and we found that 33 percent viewed economics as hard, 3 percent said sociology was hard, 7 percent saw psychology as hard, and 13 percent thought political science was hard. Since other social sciences were the primary alternative majors that most of the economics students considered, that data is compelling evidence that the respondents perceived those other majors as too easy. Students likely reasoned that taking a "too easy" major would signal to potential employers that the student had chosen an easy path through college, thereby hurting their chances of being hired.
In my current job I see students that consistently eschew hard courses and majors for what they deem as more practical and more marketable alternatives. This is part of what I perceive as a general moving away from the liberal arts based undergraduate education to a more vocational approach at large state universities. I think we need to do a better job informing the students that this may not be the best long-term strategy and that basic skills in writing and math are incredibly valuable assets that you keep with you your entire life - especially as the economy evolves and the vocation you trained for as an undergraduate may not be there for you in the future.