The Great Books? Think again: Liberal-arts majors could become a thing of the past
The liberal-arts college student who sets foot on campus with the goal of becoming a philosopher, historian or English professor may soon become a thing of the past, a new report indicates.
More than half of the college programs with the biggest growth between 2010 and 2014 were in science, technology, engineering and math fields, according to an analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International. The number of college students pursuing history, education, literature and philosophy dropped during the same period, the study found.
The chart above based on the results of CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International’s study shows the growth in some STEM majors between 2010 and 2014 and the decline in some liberal-arts majors during the same period.
The grim employment prospects for English majors have been a running joke for decades, but with more data available on the best-paying jobs and majors and families growing increasingly concerned about reaping a return on their investment in college, students are running scared from majors that don’t translate directly into a job. That trend could accelerate over the next several years, experts say, as policymakers look for ways to provide students and parents with more information about the economic value of their academic program so they can see if it’s worth taking on debt to pursue their degree.
“There’s a lot more discussion now around [how] your degree is your currency so you want to get a degree that’s tangible, that could turn into a job,” said Rosemary Haefner, the chief human resources officer at jobs listing site CareerBuilder. “Is there a price to be paid for all of this clarity about how easy it will be to get a job if you have one degree versus another? Time will tell, but there’s going to be some impact.”
Workers with STEM skills are in more demand and can command higher pay, so it’s only natural for college students to lean towards these fields, said Haefner. She said she’s hopeful that as those degrees become more popular, colleges work to incorporate more elements of a humanities program into the curriculum.
“There’s a lot of opportunity people see,” in STEM, she said. “But research also shows that those skills typically thought of as what you would learn in liberal arts—successful writing, decision making—are also thought of as important. Maybe we need to build out the curriculum of the STEM degrees to have a little more of a liberal-arts component.”