Forbes: Actually, a humanities degree has great value

Expert crunches the numbers and finds high ROI for 'useless' degrees

Despite a national focus on STEM education, a degree in the humanities still has plenty of economic return, argues one professor in a blog post for Forbes.

According to Jeffrey Dorfman, an economics professor at the University of Georgia, humanities degrees have clear, demonstrable value—yet many policymakers seem overly focused on steering students toward STEM.

Dorfman notes that policymakers often suggest increasing funding for STEM programs at the expense of the humanities, because they are "less useful" degrees.  As part of a project to quantify the economic value of his university, Dorfman conducted an analysis of wages to see if the critics were right.

He used salary data from the firm, which has tracked the starting and midcareer salary data for 1.4 million Americans. The data is broken down by college major. Dorfman calculated the value of each major by calculating how much more an average graduate makes than they typical high school graduate. To ensure an accurate picture, he also subtracted the cost of attending college itself.

Why recent graduates from tech and military schools out-earn the Ivy League

He based his calculations on the cost of in-state tuition at a top-tier public university. He found:

  • Art majors would gain $315,500 in salary over a lifetime;
  • History majors would gain $537,800;
  • Philosophy major would gain 658,900; and
  • English majors would gain $444,700.

The Payscale data only tracks students without a graduate degree, so these findings are not skewed by, for example, history students who went on to get a law degree.

Granted, many STEM fields produce a more significant gain. Physics majors, for instance, can expect lifetime earnings of over $1 million. However, most humanities majors will still get "an A in economics because the returns on their investments are quite high (in the 300 to 700 percent range)" Dorfman writes (Dorfman, Forbes, 11/20).

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