Liberal arts students have better career prospects if they specialize in one skill

'It's not a matter of shutting down the classics department and turning it into a business degree'

Picking up a few extra courses could unlock thousands of additional job opportunities–and salary dollars—for liberal arts majors, according to a new Burning Glass Technologies analysis.

The findings may put to rest the debate surrounding the value of humanities majors, says Matthew Sigelman, CEO at Burning Glass.

"Employers really value soft skills that are the bedrock of a liberal-arts education," he says. "It's not a matter of shutting down the classics department and turning it into a business degree."

What employers really need from recent grads: Soft skills

Cultivating specific skills, such as computer programming or graphic design, can open up a whole new set of career opportunities.

For the analysis, Burning Glass examined a year's worth of—or 955,000—ads for entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor's degree. They then looked at how many additional jobs recent liberal arts graduates would be competitive for if they had at least one more additional skill.

Researchers found if students added skills in:

  • IT networking and support, 66,429 positions opened up;
  • Sales, 567,855 positions opened up;
  • General business, 577,787 positions opened up;
  • Data analysis and management, 136,757 positions opened up;
  • Social media, 399,577 positions opened up;
  • Marketing, 359,916 positions opened up;
  • Graphic design, 134,090 positions opened up; and
  • Computer programming, 52,822 positions opened up.

Adding one of those eight skills also increased offered salaries, with the exception of sales. A graduate with computer programing skills was paid $17,753 more than a graduate with liberal arts knowledge alone.

"The reality is the liberal arts are really close" to what employers want, says Sigelman. Students can boost their job chances by simply adding a few courses in college, picking up a minor, completing a community college course one summer, or pursing online learning opportunities.

The industry needs "to get past the lazy debate" surrounding liberal arts programs," Sigelman says (Blumenstyk, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/9).

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