Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Liberal Arts Degrees: Can They Bring Success?

   As it continually becomes more difficult for college graduate to find jobs, many students are looking for ways to ensure themselves of employment.  Students look to engineering degrees, thinking these will guarantee them a job, all the while others flee from liberal arts degrees, as they do not consider them useful in finding a trade.  Society tends to think that liberal arts degrees are useless in today’s world.  This raises the question of whether or not the majoring in a liberal arts field can result in finding a job pertaining to the average student’s studies.  Before this question can be answered, I must differentiate between a liberal arts education and a liberal arts major.  For the sake of this essay, I will be referring to a liberal education as it is defined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities: “a general education curriculum that provides broad learning in multiple disciplines”.  This means that liberal education does not simply prepare a student for one particular trade or field.  Liberal arts majors, not to be confused with liberal education, will be defined as specific programs of study that would fall under a Liberal Arts degree, such as Psychology or Philosophy. While students majoring in liberal arts tend to have a more difficult time establishing a career, many are still able to find jobs because of particular advantages liberal education can provide to its students.

            While it is true that students of all fields have trouble finding jobs in today’s economy, unemployment rates for college graduates with liberal arts degrees are significantly higher than those for graduates with other degrees.  According to a study done by Georgetown University, 11.1% of graduates with arts degrees and 9.4% of graduates with humanities and liberal arts degrees are unemployed.  Compared to the 7.5% rate for engineering majors and the 5.4% rate for education majors, 11.1% is significantly higher.  Many argue that all majors are created equal, yet these figures prove that that is not the case.
 While the figures are focused on the amount of people not working, the flip side shows that the majority of the graduates get jobs.  This leads to the question of what kind of jobs these graduates get and whether or not they pertain to their studies. Many liberal arts majors do not work in the field they focused their studies on.  For instance, an English major may end up working in public relations or publishing rather than in writing or teaching.  So while the students are getting jobs, they generally are not jobs that pertain directly to their majors.  Also, liberal arts majors tend to have “multiple careers” in many different fields, while students with degrees in other fields tend to stick to one career.  While liberal arts majors can find jobs, it seems to be harder than it is for those with degrees in other fields.  Also, these jobs may not be directly related to their degree and can cause them to switch careers many times in their lives.
            While liberal arts does not produce many jobs, liberal education does have many benefits for its liberal arts students and for students in general.  Students studying under a liberal education are required to take classes in a wide range of fields and topics.  Liberal arts students study under a liberal education tend to be well-rounded and versatile when it comes to finding jobs, even if these jobs may not be what they were studying.  This is what helps the liberal arts students that do find jobs since they tend to have more options than those in engineering based fields.  However, these options tend to be less in demand.  Many students in engineering or other trade based fields, however, predominantly take courses solely related to their field.  This gives them a fairly narrow range of what they can be employed in, although, to their benefit, the demand for what they have studied tends to be high. 
Liberal education would benefit students in all fields.  Sanford J. Ungar found that companies were looking for potential employees that could “[better] communicate orally and in writing,” a skill that an English major would possess.  David Foster Wallace describes the skills that liberal arts students possess as knowing “what to think about.” On one hand, majors producing graduates qualified in only one skill would benefit from liberal education.  If universities required their students to take a certain number of liberal arts classes rather than simply having liberal arts colleges, students would be well rounded while still skilled in a trade.  This would help students be proficient in many things rather than slightly proficient in many things or extremely proficient in one thing.  As Ungar said in his essay, “No one could be against equipping oneself for a career,” showing that universities should be doing anything they can to help their students get a career.  If that means making their students better in more fields while still training them in a particular field, it is the universities job to do that.     
            Students majoring in liberal arts degrees can expect to have a hard time finding jobs when they graduate.  Students majoring in fields that are directed towards trades will more easily find a job and a career, especially since these jobs are in high demand.  However, these majors may lack writing skills, whereas liberal arts majors would be proficient in such.  In order to fix this, colleges should incorporate a liberal education where students are required to take courses in many fields in order to broaden their skill set.  Also, in order to prevent one field from being harder to find jobs in rather than others, liberal arts majors should either be eliminated or altered to incorporate certain skill sets that would help their students obtain jobs.  In a time of economic turmoil for the United States, students need to do all that they can to prepare themselves for their career after school.  


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