Humanities and social science majors bring much more than just “a sense of dignity even grandeur” to workplaces, like fast food restaurants, as Garrison Keillor quipped. But, according to a new report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, on average, at peak earning ages liberal arts majors earn about $2,000 more than pre-professional and professional majors.
The best paying major remain the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, but the gap between these graduates’ earnings and those of their classmates concentrating in the humanities and social sciences is not as great as some believe.
Liberal arts majors’ unemployment rates decline with time (down to a low of 3.5 percent) and they gain an annual average salary bump of $20,000 upon earning a graduate or professional degree, according to the study.
This directly contradicts perspective enunciated by Jane Shaw in The Wall Street Journal last year: “Many liberal-arts graduates, even from the best schools, aren’t getting jobs in large part because they didn’t learn much in school. They can’t write or speak well or intelligently analyze what they read.”
The AACU report complements a 2013 study by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. As originally reported on by USA Today, the study found that liberal arts majors can “nearly double their job prospects – and boost their starting salaries to boot – by picking up a few technical skills before they graduate.”
The Georgetown authors warn that without honing these additional skills – in categories ranging from marketing to computer programming and social media to data management – recent liberal arts graduates may find that their degrees don’t lead to immediate employment. Moreover, starting salaries for liberal arts graduates with the extra training averaged $49,000, while those without averaged $43,000.
The Great Recession of recent years has had dramatic effects upon almost all of U.S. labor. These studies are good news for many students and recent graduates, and recently released government data shows that unemployment is trending downward, especially among those who hold degrees.
Approximately 40 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees in the humanities later earn a graduate or professional degree. And that's still good advice, according to the author of the Georgetown report. If one chooses to major in the humanities or social sciences, he or she should plan to “go to graduate school.”