Busting myths about the liberal arts

A student's major does not need to correlate to a career path

Despite persisting concerns about outcomes for liberal arts majors, students in the liberal arts can thrive in the workforce with the right institutional support, EAB Managing Director David Attis writes for eCampus News.

Data indicate that liberal arts majors generally have lower starting salaries and higher unemployment rates than their peers in other disciplines, so Attis acknowledges that students and families are rightly concerned about the value of a liberal arts degree. However, he fears that metrics used to determine the return on investment for college are most biased against liberal arts majors and liberal arts institutions.

"It's important to remember that these metrics average over many students with many different outcomes, backgrounds, and goals," Attis writes. "The university and the major are not the most important factors responsible for graduates' salaries (though they are the easiest to measure)."

Rather, students' career choices will have a much bigger influence on their earnings, Attis explains. Humanities majors are just as prepared to succeed in the workforce as their business major counterparts, although they tend to opt for less lucrative careers.

In addition, Attis notes, the skills that employers seek in candidates are often cultivated by a liberal arts education, such as problem solving, teamwork, and oral and written communication. Liberal arts majors who want to gain an edge in the job market can also expand their career opportunities by adding at least one field-specific skill set, including marketing, graphic design, or computer programming.

Students' career success is ultimately in their own hands, but institutions can take steps to ensure that students are adequately prepared for the workforce. Attis shares the following best practices from EAB's new report:

  • Offer opportunities for integrated career exploration through for-credit courses;
  • Create career-aligned tracks or specializations within liberal arts majors;
  • Establish programs that encourage liberal arts majors to obtain supplementary certificates from on-campus professional schools; and
  • Offer co-curricular opportunities to integrate work experience with academic coursework. 

Learn more best practices for reclaiming the value of the liberal arts

(Attis, eCampus News, 9/16). 

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