In Defense of the Liberal Arts

Padmini-Liberal Arts
Art by Padmini Muraletharen

Chris Bell

Freshman, Political Science/History Major

As a University of Florida student, you have inevitably thought about the not so distant future: the late nights studying in Library West resulting in a degree with the hopes of being offered legitimate employment on the path to a possible series of careers. Important questions remain: What is the easiest path to employment? How much money will I make? Will I enjoy what I do? Many college students believe the answer is studying STEM fields. While there is some validity to this assumption, the fruits borne by the liberal arts as a STEM alternative are not as unattractive as society perceives them to be. Liberal arts majors’ wages and social utility are comparable to those of STEM majors.

First of all, the assumption that liberal arts majors will be at a disadvantage in the jobs market is false. The broad approach to education promoted by the liberal arts provides a solid base of analytical and communicative skills in a multitude of areas, including history, language, literature, biological and physical sciences, and so on. This is contrary to the goal of a specialized STEM education designed to provide skills specific to a profession. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities reports that 80 percent of employers seek out students with a broad base of knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences. Moreover, the belief that one’s employability is contingent upon his or her major is false, as 93 percent of employers agree that a candidate’s critical thinking, communication, and problem solving abilities are far more important.

Another incorrect supposition is that the only job available to liberal arts majors such as myself will be serving your venti iced vanilla chai latte in perpetuity. According to the previously cited study, immediately after college (ages 21-25), liberal arts majors lag behind professional STEM majors in terms of mean income, with a gap of $26,129 to STEM’s $31,183. However, the gap steadily closes and turns around in favor of the liberal arts. During one’s peak earning years (ages 56-60), liberal arts majors out earn STEM majors $76,368 to $64,149. The earnings of STEM majors are hampered by those in the science-based STEM fields. While those studying in the technology, engineering, and mathematics STEM fields make commendable wages, science STEM majors make less in terms of mean income, with chemistry majors earning no more than economics and government majors and biology majors earning as much as political science and linguistics majors.

These figures tell us that liberal arts majors are still relevant and very much in demand by employers. As a society, we cannot afford to spare the liberal arts in our education system. In today’s economy, people are cycling through more jobs and and find themselves changing their career fields more often, thus necessitating an educational base that reinforces a wide array of skills that can be universally applied as opposed to a STEM-based professional education tailored towards a specific field. As a society, we must create thinkers who are innovative and versatile, able to solve whatever problems come their way. Through an all-encompassing liberal arts education we can prepare ourselves for whatever the future may hold.

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