Census data shows that despite the rising costs of education, college degrees are worth the investment.
In a down-turned economy and with the cost of a college degree at an all-time high, there is still, naturally, a concern for the Return on Investment (ROI) of college, especially for Liberal Arts students and graduates. In the many reports correlating wages with college majors, inevitably, those with liberal arts degrees fall on the lower end of the scale (and have higher unemployment numbers), while those in business and technology tend toward higher salaries and lower unemployment rates. No surprise, really.
There are, therefore, many proponents for “career-oriented” majors, in which graduates leave with a particular skill-set valued by employers – i.e. “STEM” comes up more and more. Computer Science and Accounting grads have always pulled high salaries immediately after graduation.
“Immediately” is the key word here.
Let’s face it: our society measures “good jobs” by high salaries and “placement” immediately upon graduation, while failing to recognize the long-term career successes of many liberal arts graduates.
When we look back at the lists of skills employers want, the skills like judgment, problem solving, and communication are the ones that stand out, and the ones that become more important throughout one’s career.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it’s the Liberal-Arts folks who make out better in the long term, both in terms of salaries, and in terms of unemployment rates. Graduates of arts and humanities programs, while not always employed in the arts or humanities, use their knowledge in many different ways AND have higher job satisfaction than those with professional degrees, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Most people don’t work even work in the fields of their college majors!
BUT when we look at the individual courses taken as part of most college degrees, they do correlate with the skills employers are teaching. For example, problem solving skills can be learned and enhanced with the hard sciences, where one must form a hypothesis and prove or disprove it through a series of experiments. Communication skills are gained orally, through forming persuasive arguments and presentations (which are required in coursework of all disciplines), through written reports and research papers, as well as virtual and real-time communication and projects with professors and peers.
An academic curriculum that prepares graduates only for current jobs is, as a result, performing a huge disservice to the student population.
But back to the surveys, data, and numbers: where are the qualitative measures of interests and values? After all, not everyone is money-motivated; not everyone defines “success” in the same way.
This leads to the question of employee engagement, career satisfaction, and ultimately employee retention – factors which employers say are critical issues. The unfortunate reality is that if an organization is enlightened enough to focus on these topics, more often than not, the symptoms of such rather than the underlying causes are what is addressed.
Still, people are going to believe what they WANT to believe, what their significant others tell them, or what statistics reveal (never mind how easily statistics can be manipulated). Our education, focused on standardized testing, no longer prepares students to be active, responsible citizens, or provides individuals with the critical thinking skills necessary to question skewed data. We owe it to the future leaders of the world, and to ourselves, to foster their intellect and their humanity. But don’t take that from me. Listen to the 93% of employers who say that a candidate’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems are more important than their college major.