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? I was trying to find some data some data to back up that claim when I came across the PBK website Toolkit. In this series of posts, I’m looking up the references used to prove that a liberal arts and sciences degree will improve your chances of getting a job.
To get back to more of the statements made about the benefits of a liberal arts and sciences degree on the PBK Toolkit page, the next sentence to get my attention with regard to jobs was the following:
This is another variation on the statement I looked at in my last post, Can you get a job with a liberal arts degree?, making a case for liberal arts and science majors being good employees. But a different reference was given this time: The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) “It Takes More Than A Major,” Washington, D.C.: 2013. Let’s analyze this reference.
To begin with, the study was funded by colleges and universities. This is a bit like depending on tobacco companies for lung cancer research data. At least the study by NACE was done by an organization that included employers. But, giving them the benefit of a doubt that colleges and universities should be looking at and assessing this type of information, I looked further.
What I found was that the reports from the study not only seem biased in their wording, but all of the surveys they are basing their statements on are just opinion measures about what should happen during a college education, not concrete measures about the skills students acquire in college.
For example, the statement above seems to be based on the fact that when presented with this statement about the aims of college learning, “All students should acquire broad knowledge in liberal arts and sciences.” AAC&U, “It Takes More Than A Major , 80% of those surveyed responded at least “somewhat agree.”
Another example: “When read a description of a 21st century liberal education , a large majority of employers recognize its importance; 74% would recommend this kind of education to a young person they know as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy.” AAC&U, “It Takes More Than A Major, emphasis mine
No proof is given that a liberal arts and science degree does indeed develop the skills in the description. More importantly, this says nothing about who these employers are actually hiring. I’m astounded that I got to the end of the study and I found it to be a worthless reference; not credible at all. Maybe I’m being to cynical. After all, someone did some put some time and thought into this study and maybe it’s not possible to be more exact than this.
However, here are some examples of questions I would have liked to have seen on this survey.
- What were the degrees of the people you hired in the last year?
- Did you have trouble finding qualified candidates to hire?
- How did new hires perform on the job? After rating their performance, please reference their application resumes and provide their majors and GPAs.
- What college degrees are held by your best employees?
- What degrees are held by the employees who advanced in your company last year?
I’ll admit that even these questions would show at best correlation and not causation, but it would be a start. (Read this for an explanation of causation vs. correlation.)
So, I’m not yet convinced that a liberal arts degree will get you a job. I’ll keep looking as I continue this series.