Opinion: Liberal arts degrees have value, even if they don’t directly correlate to a specific career


Cassie Wade

Photo courtesy of Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

Deciding on a major is a daunting task for many college students. Often times, students are told to study what makes them happy, but when what makes them happy doesn’t directly correlate to a money making career, their major of choice comes into question.

Science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, degree programs are seen by many as the way of the future. In fact, statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) support this assertion.

Employment opportunities within STEM fields are expected to grow to more than 9 million jobs between 2012 and 2022, according to a BLS Occupation Outlook Quarterly report from 2014.

Many of the jobs listed within the BLS report typically require a bachelor’s degree and have a median annual wage predicted to be well over $60,000. If a four-year degree earns students a job and comfortable salary within a growing field of industry, it makes sense to major in STEM, but what if a student’s passions lie elsewhere?

Liberal arts degree programs, such as literature, language studies, art history, philosophy and social sciences make up the other portion of college campus degree programs. While STEM programs are highly valued, the humanities and liberal arts are not always seen in the same positive light.

Speaking from personal experience as an English major, liberal arts majors catch a lot of flak for their decision to major in a degree program that often doesn’t correlate to a specific career. While an architectural engineering student graduates and moves on to designing buildings and a biology student graduates and moves on to medical school, what kind of future does a liberal arts major have?

This question is open-ended. It is does not, however, often lead to a future that involves working in a shoe store, like Netscape founder Marc Andreessen said during a conference in 2012. In fact, liberal arts degrees offer students endless employment options.

If you type “liberal arts degree jobs” into a search engine, countless pages teeming with job opportunities, such as psychologist, human resources specialist, communications specialist and graphic designer, pop up.

These jobs don’t come with dismal salaries that will force liberal arts majors to live out of a shoe box, either. In fact, PaysScale, a website dedicated to helping employers and employees understand their compensation value, places the average salary of a liberal arts major at $59,000 – that’s not far from the median wage of several of the STEM jobs listed in the BLS report. Like the BLS report’s STEM jobs, compensation varies widely based on each position.

While STEM fields continue to grow and technology rapidly changes, University of Nebraska at Omaha English professor Charles Johanningsmeier said liberal arts majors will continue to find jobs and hold leadership positions in the 21st century.

“I’d say that I believe liberal arts majors, because of the broad range of courses they take, are especially well-trained to see the multiple dimensions of any issue or problem; ask good, incisive questions about what they see; and then do the research required to make sense of these materials or come up with positive solutions,” Johanningsmeier said.

Johanningsmeier said that these skills will not be replaced by artificial intelligence anytime soon.

STEM fields are growing and offer vast opportunities for employment, but just because STEM fields of study are often viewed in a more positive light and encouraged, doesn’t mean a liberal arts degree is useless.

Students should pursue their passions and major in a degree program that interests them, whether that be computer science or literature. Their happiness is more important than incorrect, outdated views on the type of degree programs that will enable students to earn a solid income and have a successful career. These views should not hold anyone back from following their dreams, whatever they may be.