With college tuition at an all-time high, many in higher education are explicitly promoting the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). For example, Governor Scott in Florida may reduce tuition in STEM fields at state institutions. Others argue for the enduring value of a broad-based liberal arts education as a means to enhance critical thinking and communication skills. Steve Yoder wrote a balanced article in The Fiscal Times, helpfully exploring both sides of the issue. A few excerpts:
- The number of liberal arts colleges nationwide has dropped from 212 in 1990 to only 130 today, according to a study this summer in the journal Liberal Education.
- A study released last January by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce found that college graduates age 22−26 with humanities and liberal arts degrees had an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, the third worst of the 15 degree areas sampled. Health and education majors fared best, both at 1.9 percent.
- Victor Ferrall, author of the 2011 book Liberal Arts at the Brink, says that since people change jobs at least five or six times in the course of their careers, a narrow technical focus will create workers who aren’t as adaptable as those with broader educations.
- Some firms intentionally hire students with liberal arts backgrounds, to avoid “group think,” and in the belief that such graduates can “successfully communicate and innovatively solve problems.”
- Nevertheless, average salaries for recent humanities and liberal arts graduates were $31,000, which ranked 12th of the 15 majors examined in the Georgetown study (see p. 7). Only recreation, arts, and psychology/social work graduates fared worse, at $30,000; engineering grads topped the list at $55,000.
Read the whole thing.
Update: It turns out Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have engaged this debate. This is from Vivek Wadhwa of Stanford University:
The NY Times had asked me to comment on the divergence of opinion between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In a speech before the National Governors Association, Gates had argued that we need to spend our limited education budget on disciplines that produce the most jobs. He implied that we should reduce our investment in the liberal arts because liberal-arts degrees don’t correlate well with job creation. Three days later, at the unveiling of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs had said: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices”.