Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

What Can You Do with a Liberal Arts Major?

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

What Can You Do with a Liberal Arts Major?

Article excerpt

Though the Great Recession was officially declared over in 2009, we are still reeling from its effects. Students and parents alike are wondering whether college is really "worth it." Not only that, students are wondering how to select majors that will lead to good jobs after graduation.

Meanwhile, playing to that anxiety, some policymakers have launched an attack on majors in the humanities and social sciences (fields like history, English, political science and anthropology). Florida's governor proposed trimming state tuition for students in some high-demand science and technology fields, while allowing tuition to rise for humanities majors. A Utah legislator suggested that the state should stop supporting liberal arts fields that, according to him, provide "degrees to nowhere."

First-generation college students are, not surprisingly, more likely to assume that they must major in something that "sounds like a job." They need educators at all levels to counter that misconception, and explain to them the value of majoring in a liberal arts field.

A new report from our organization, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), probes the career and salary trajectories of students in different categories of majors, using data from the U.S. Census. The findings put to rest alarmist fears that liberal arts graduates are unemployed and unemployable. The report also highlights data about how college still provides strong economic returns, as well as strong protections against the basic threat of unemployment, whatever a graduates choice of major.

This new report, How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment, examines long-term salary patterns for graduates just out of college and at peak earnings ages in several categories of majors: the liberal arts (humanities, arts and social sciences), the sciences and mathematics, professional and preprofessional fields, and engineering. Over time, liberal arts graduates close earnings gaps with those who major in professional or preprofessional fields. In fact, at peak earning age, liberal arts graduates make, on average, slightly more than those who majored in professional or preprofessional fields. This is a message that first-generation and minority students need to hear as much, if not more than, second-generation students.

The new report also affirms what others have suggested about science, mathematics and engineering. Because of supply and demand and the changing global economy, the earnings of science and mathematics majors are generally higher across the career span, with engineering salaries being the highest of all. …

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