American society, and mathematics), Anthony P. Carnevale, college graduates, critical thinking, culture, earnings, employment, engineering, English Major, general education, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, graduate education, Healthcare, humanities, labor market, liberal arts, polity, post-college employment, relevant job skills, STEM (science, technical majors, technology, Wall Street Journal
By Anthony P. Carnevale
The debate over whether it’s still worth to major in the humanities becomes louder during difficult economic times when many people, especially recent college graduates, are suffering. Critics of the humanities cite higher earnings and better employment statistics for people who majored in technical fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and healthcare. Proponents of humanities counsel patience, saying that general education provides a broad range of skills, such as critical thinking, offering individuals long-term flexibility in a changing labor market.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Engineering and other technical majors provide education and training that link directly to relevant job skills, which makes the transition into the labor market easier: STEM majors earn more and are employed at higher rates initially after graduating. For liberal arts and humanities majors, on the other hand, the benefits of their degree often aren’t fully realized until later in life. Humanities and liberal arts majors also serve as one of the most traveled gateway to graduate education (43% of these majors get a graduate degree boosting median lifetime earnings from $1.6M to $2M (27%) over the prime age career (25-54). Furthermore, humanities majors with a graduate degree who become managers end up with median earnings of $103,000 – cutting the earnings gap between the humanities and engineers nearly in half.
In the end, education isn’t just about getting a job, though that is one of its central roles in American society. Education also allows citizens to live more fully in their time — to experience the American society, polity, and culture as good neighbors and fully autonomous individuals. Humanities and technical fields both serve important roles in our society and economy, and the choice of major is a very personal one that individual students must make for themselves.
Anthony P. Carnevale is the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
This essay is part of a series on humanities studies and post-college employment.