The Value of a Humanities Major
My friend Stacie just posted an op-ed piece about higher education and economics from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on her blog, Shades of Mediocrity. I started a comment in response to her, but soon saw it would go above and beyond the call of duty, so decided to continue the conversation here.
What is the overall economic value of a liberal arts degree?
The advising coordinator in General College at the U of M recently sent this poster to the career services listserve on campus. According to this scale, my current salary puts me just slightly (and I do mean slightly) above "High School Graduate." Now I understand that I work at a public university, and therefore must expect a pay scale lower than what I could find in the public sector, but approximately $44,000 less than what my highest degree is?
My husband Scott's salary is more in line with his education according to this chart, but he has more than one master's degree. And he's in computer science, which should skew his earnings as much on the high end as my degree is skewed on the low end of the scale.
But ultimately, is his degree in computer science more valuable than my degree in English? Are liberal arts majors happier in careers they probably had to go out and find (I never aspired to be an academic adviser, and I'm pretty sure the liberal arts majors in financial aid never aspired to be there either) than people who graduated with a degree in finance from the Carlson School of Management or chemistry from the Institute of Technology or interior design from the College of Human Ecology?
I don't know what the answer to this is. I understand the value of taking liberal arts classes and even taking more of those classes than math/science at some points. I even like most liberal arts classes because I have an insatiable desire for knowledge and education. But when part of my job is trying to convince my students to remain in CLA (my office has the lowest number of graduating seniors because we advise science students who generally transfer to Biological Sciences, IT, or another college offering the BS without the second language requirement) and assure them that they'll be able to find good jobs doing what they're interested in, I become a little more cynical.
What can you do with an English major? The standard response around my office is generally "anything you want to do. What can't you do?" But that doesn't necessarily limit the field any.