Liberal Arts Majors Succeed Over Long Term

January 31, 2014

A new report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) claims college graduates with Humanities degrees actually achieve higher salaries at peak earnings ages ($2,000 higher annual earnings for workers of ages 56 to 60) compared to graduates with professional or pre-professional degrees, such as nursing or business majors, which have higher starting salaries. As it was phrased in an article from Inside Higher Ed, “liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money [than] those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates.” Though Humanities degree-holders still lag far behind what engineers can expect to make at any point in their career, this study, at the very least, does positive work against the “myth” that, according to Debra Humphreys, co-author of the report, “if you major in Humanities, you’re doomed to be unemployed for the rest of your life.” Humphreys added that career progression for humanities grads is “more of a marathon, than a sprint.” The salaries start out small but catch up in the long run.

The report, “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment,” examined salary information from three million respondents from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 and 2011 American Community Survey. Other key findings from the report include the fact that unemployment rates are comparatively lower for liberal arts graduates, and those rates decline over time; liberal arts and sciences majors are, at a rate of 40%, very likely to pursue graduate degrees, which provide significant salary boosts, again compared to professional and pre-professional degree-holders such as nurses and business majors, who are less likely to pursue graduate degrees; and as reassurance, the study found that no matter the undergraduate major, college degrees lead to increased earnings over time and protect against unemployment.

In an article for Inside Higher Ed concerning this report, Allie Grasgreen wrote, “employers consistently say they want to hire people who have a broad knowledge base and can work [collaboratively], debate, communicate, and think critically, the report notes—[these are] all skills that liberal arts programs aggressively… strive to teach.”

The authors of the report concluded by saying, “The choice of [major] is not all that matters in determining long-term [success.] While there are differences in outcomes related to employment, the majority of college graduates do achieve success in their careers, regardless of their choice of undergraduate major.”


Sources: The AAC&U, Inside Higher Ed, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal

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