A liberal arts degree will teach you skills that employers are looking for when they hire. When you’re researching college majors, colleges vs. universities, and types of degrees, you will see this statement often. But is it true? In this series of posts, I’m looked up some references used to prove that a liberal arts and sciences degree will improve your chances of getting a job. I’m not convinced yet.
But before we leave this subject of liberal arts and science majors’ earning potential, consider this article:
The title about says it all.
However there is a rebuttal on Forbes to the same article:
It analyzes some limits on the data collected for this study. For one thing, it criticizes the fact that students enrolled in graduate school at the time of the study were excluded. I will point out that if you’re still enrolled in graduate school at the time of the study, that means you’ve been in school for fourteen years since high school. That’s longer than K-12th grade! And it means that you’ve been in school for 27 years! And graduate stipends are not high salaries.
It would be interesting to see if more of those students still (stuck) in school were from research universities or liberal arts colleges. The comment in the article seems to indicate that the author thinks they’re from liberal arts colleges, but the mid-career earnings bump referred to is likely to be a reference to the data I analyzed in a previous article, Do liberal arts degrees earn more than other majors?, which has a lot of limitations. Also, it would take a lot more of a bump than is shown in that study to compensate for a decade of low to no earnings while you stay in school.
I will add that in the Forbes’ article I noticed a lot of the same arguments made in favor of a liberal arts and sciences education that are made in Most Likely to Succeed, by Tony Wagner for over-hauling our secondary education (high school) system. It is the argument is this: kids of the future need to be prepared for jobs that we don’t can’t even imagine yet, and to do so they need an education that teaches them how to think.
If I’m buying into that idea for high school, perhaps I should be buying into the same idea for college. But, liberal arts proponents want to claim that you get there by just being a well rounded student, by taking classes in lots of different subjects, that they choose for you. And most colleges still teach and grade the same way as high school, lecture based learning with grades on (mostly) returned correct information. There is still a lot of emphasis given on learning lots of facts and being able to quote those facts in colleges and universities. That type of learning is not limited just to high schools. In fact, that is given as a reason as to why high schools still need to continue teaching in that way, so that their students can then success in college.
A big component to Wagner’s idea is a different approach to learning, with less emphasis on lecture and more emphasis on creating something new, with collected knowledge that you look up, not memorize. (I did a complete series about his documentary, Most Likely to Succeed.)
And the problem is that the lecture/test format doesn’t necessarily teach you how to think, so much as it teaches you how to memorize. I’ve heard that there are some small liberal arts colleges that try to be totally unique in their approach, but usually when you come across this information, they are trying to refer to liberal arts degrees at a broad range of colleges and universities which are still taught in the lecture/test facts format. We come back around to the idea that school isn’t doing a good job of predicting and teaching innovators, that is entrepreneurs. And a college degree isn’t needed for success. So why are you spending time and money on that liberal arts and sciences degree anyway?
I also still find myself considering that you should have learned how to think by the time your eighteen. That’s what a high school education should be teaching. And if you’re going to spend money on further education, then it better lead to some concrete results, as in hiring potential and salary.
In my next post, I’ll get back to fact-checking references that claim to prove that a liberal arts degree will improve your chances of landing a job and improve you as a person. First, in light of the huge number of required classes you have to take for liberal arts degrees, I’ll look at whether or not liberal arts degrees will leave you time to take actual art classes, which proponents of a liberal arts degree say are important to molding students into people who make great employees and innovators.