What Good Is a Liberal Arts Degree?

Lightbulb over person's face.The colleges that I work with tell me that new students are flocking to get business degrees or specialized undergraduate degrees in nursing, education, engineering, or other majors that “guarantee” a job after graduation. Yet many students enter college without a clear idea of what they want to accomplish in their career, and stress over choosing the right major. As a result, half of all students change their major at least once during their college career, according to Dr. Fritz Grupe of MyMajors.com.

Parents are worried about their children’s choices, too. “What kind of job can you to get with an English Lit major?” is a common reaction.

The fact is that a liberal arts degree remains an excellent path to success, according to statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2010 and 2011, graduates with degrees in the humanities or social science actually had average salaries that were higher than those for science and math graduates. It is true that those with engineering and professional or pre-professional degrees made more right out of college, but this margin does not appear to hold up over time.

According to the Census Bureau numbers, by age 56 to 60 the humanities and social science graduates made about $2,000 more a year than the professional and pre-professional graduates.

Of course, it doesn’t matter what the average salary is if you can’t find a job. So what is the story for liberal arts majors? It turns out that even in the middle of this awful economy and job market, recent liberal arts graduates had an unemployment rate of just 5.2%, far below the national average for workers overall. This means that almost 19 out of every 20 graduates were able to find work. And this advantage appears to extend later in your career. In the same period, workers 41 to 50 years old with liberal arts degrees had an unemployment rate of just 3.5 percent, which is only slightly higher than those with professional or pre-professional degrees.

The fact is that our nation’s businesses – large and small – depend on a steady crop of young workers who are needed not for the facts that they learned in college, but rather the skills. Companies need employees with a strong work ethic, the ability to conduct research and analysis of information, problem solving ability, leadership and teamwork skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively both verbally and in writing. These are the very skills that a liberal arts degree is design to teach.

Alfred Poor, Ph.D. is a speaker and a writer, and is the author of “7 Success Secrets That Every College Student Needs to Know!” He speaks to high school, college, and corporate audiences about the importance of career skills for young employees’ success at work.

He is dedicated to delivering practical information that you can put to use right away. You can contact him on Twitter at @AlfredPoor, on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/alfredpoor, on Google+ at google.com/+AlfredPoor, or through his website at www.alfredpoorspeaker.com.

This post was provided by Alfred Poor, Professional Speaker and writer, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on March 1st, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Airik Lopez

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