The question is how its value is recognized by students and communicated to employers.
There is a growing consensus among students, parents and employers that today’s young liberal arts graduates lack the skills needed to succeed in the post-Recession job market. Stories about this skills gap abound, such as the recent New York Times essay “Opening an Employment Door to the Young”.
This belief is growing stronger despite studies by higher education leaders arguing that a liberal arts degree is still a good investment today. Smart people may disagree on the value of a liberal arts degree, but no matter which side you are on, things must change. Schools can’t continue to deliver an expensive credential that is not seen as delivering a viable path to a career—no matter what the long-term value. Here are four things higher education leaders and students must do differently to make liberal arts education economically sustainable—for all.
1. Stop the hand wringing about the real value of a liberal arts education.
Higher education leaders are frustrated by what they see as unfair treatment in the media, and overreaction by parents to the declining value of the liberal arts degree. But any strategy to counter the public’s negative perceptions with long-term data and rational arguments is doomed to fail.
One college junior last week confessed to me she had changed her major from microbiology to English, even though she sees her new major as “dangerous” in terms of future employment. Parents, students and the press have all heard too many first hand stories about the challenges of today’s job market. Trying to convince them otherwise only sounds like whining. Stop it now! It’s not the value of liberal arts that needs to be debated. It’s how skills acquired with the degree are recognized by students and communicated to employers.
2. Use the entire school community to create an employable graduate.
With tuition discount rates climbing, as more colleges and universities struggle to attract good students, the current revenue model is unsustainable for all but the most elite and well-endowed colleges and universities. To prosper in the new competitive environment, institutions must engage the whole school system in supporting the personal and career development of their students.
I recently worked with a leading research university to align the efforts of its huge, decentralized staff to transform the career support infrastructure. This type of collaboration to improve support for liberal arts students means aligning the activities of administrators, faculty, academic and career advisors, as well as alumni, parents, fund raising staff, and students themselves. This is no easy task. But savvy higher education leaders recognize that increasing the employability of their grads requires major culture change that involves the whole system.
3. Attack the job search “skills gap” head on.
A major reason so many liberal arts students struggle after graduation is they have no clue about the real skills needed to pursue and land a job in today’s hyper-competitive job market. A lot of schools need to reinvent their traditional career services function so it provides leading edge tools and tutoring to prepare students for the “real world.”
Updated networking techniques, ready access to helpful alumni, education about technologies like applicant tracking systems, and intensive coaching for Skype and in-person interviews must become standard offerings to make liberal arts students more competitive.
4. Increase student engagement with personal and career development activities.
When it comes to improving the employment prospects of college students, the elephant in the room is the difficulty of convincing young adults to fully engage with the activities needed to effectively launch their career. In the research for my book Graduate to a Great Job, more than 50% of “successful” grads I studied didn’t know what they wanted to do when they graduated.
Even students who express angst about future employment seem unwilling to invest sufficient time to master the skills needed for success, such as extensive networking, in-depth industry research, resume writing and interviewing. My research indicates this is partly due to other demands of student life, as well as an emotional resistance to “growing up.” But another factor is not understanding how much they have to learn, and how little students—and their parents—know about what it takes to land a great job today.
Motivating students to engage early and often in the career development process may be the greatest challenge facing higher education leaders today. This will be particularly problematic for large public universities with more limited resources. Private schools, like Wake Forest and Reed College, with reputations for proactively addressing career development with their students, are committed to starting this conversation freshman year.
To increase the real and perceived value of the liberal arts degree, schools must stop debating this issue and start investing in infrastructure and culture changes that align the entire school behind efforts to prepare graduates for the future. This can be done without compromising the ideals that make a liberal arts education worth fighting for.
American policy makers and educators have put too much of a focus on technical fields and not enough on teaching critical thinking, David M. Rubenstein said during a panel discussion on Thursday.
DAVOS, Switzerland – David M. Rubenstein, the co-founder of the Carlyle Group, believes American students have lost a valuable skill that can help them succeed in business and life: critical thinking.
Speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum, Mr. Rubenstein, the co-chairman of the private equity firm, said American policy makers and educators have put too much of a focus on the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at the expense of the study of literature, philosophy and other areas in the humanities.
Mr. Rubenstein’s comments offered a sharp contrast to a recurring theme in Davos this year: that more technical-based training could help solve a crisis in youth unemployment since the financial crisis.
Humanities teach problem-solving skills that enable students to stand out among their peers and to achieve success in the business world, Mr. Rubenstein said. Career-specific skills can be learned later, he said, noting that many of Wall Street’s top executives studied the humanities.
“You shouldn’t enter college worried about what you will do when you exit,” said Mr. Rubenstein, who majored in political science.
Students increasingly face pressure to enter fields that are perceived as higher paying — many times because of the skyrocketing costs of higher education, said Mr. Rubenstein, chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
But the reasoning skills that come with a well-rounded humanities education actually result in higher-paying jobs over time, Mr. Rubenstein said.
He’s even come up for an abbreviation to counter S.T.E.M., the often-cited acronym used by advocates of more career-focused disciplines.
“H=MC. Humanities equals more cash,” Mr. Rubenstein said.
To grow investment for the humanities, we must start with a clear sense of narrative backed up by solid data, says Earl Lewis
Three quarters of a century ago, Virginia Woolf posed the question: if you had just three guineas to share, what would you support?
In each age we face ostensibly insurmountable challenges that require choices to be made, resources to be allocated and areas to be ignored. This is particularly the case in the US, which has seen an explosion in the number of registered philanthropic organisations, as well as a rethinking of what it means to be philanthropic. According to the Foundation Center, 81,777 foundations and charitable entities dot the US social landscape.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences argued in a recent reportthat we live in a world characterised by change, and therefore a world dependent on the humanities and social sciences. "How," asked the academy, "do we understand and manage change if we have no notion of the past? How do we understand ourselves if we have no notion of a society, culture or world different from the one in which we live?"
When thinking about how to insert the humanities into a dialogue about a nation and its future we must start with a narrative – what story do we seek to tell?
Take, for instance, the story of demand for greater attention to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). For those of us born in the 60s or earlier, a generation might be thought to last 25 years. In the new digital age, generations are defined in terms of 18 months. A typical undergraduate might experience two or three technological generations during university. That sense of acceleration became part of the narrative that pushed STEM into the national consciousness.
And if we look at the number of US students graduating in the humanities, two storylines emerge. First, the number peaked in the early 1970s, hit an all-time low in the 90s, and has been on a steady rebound ever since. Second, as a percentage of overall graduates, the humanities have always been between 8% and 12% – a significant number.
Why young people choose to study the humanities is a complicated question. We have to consider that the humanities continue to demonstrate the vibrant and dynamic tension between continuity and change. Longstanding disciplines such as literature, history and philosophy remain important to scholarship and discovery. And for nearly a quarter of a century we have also been embracing interdisciplinary scholarship – many of us took part in the creation of gender studies, women's studies, sexuality studies and African American and ethnic studies, among others.
These examples remind us of the invention and creativity that have exploded in recent decades. New questions, new approaches, new answers and new ways of knowing are the legacy of interdisciplinary work in the humanities.
Attendance at museums and historic sites suggests the broader public takes an interest in what we produce. Last year, thousands of people lined the pathways around the National Archives building in Washington DC to view a copy of the emancipation proclamation – Abraham Lincoln's edict that freed enslaved African Americans in states at war with the US government. They did so, presumably, because the document carries with it contemporary meaning.
The fact that anyone showed up for its public viewing is to be celebrated; the fact thousands did reminds us that the humanities give us a fuller understanding of our world – past, present and future. Forms of representation and expression as old as rock art and ancient lyric, as well as newer graphic novels and digital music, have helped deepen our understanding of the human condition and foster more durable institutions and societies.
The use of one's precious guineas in support of the humanities must start with a clear sense of its narrative, backed up by data. Investment then follows because the case for support is clear. That is why it is in everyone's interests to support the humanities and the public good – doing so advances our shared future.
Earl Lewis is president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a philanthropic organisation supporting the arts and humanities
He presents a keynote on 27 January at the University of Oxford in theHumanities and the Public Good series
Women started deserting subjects like history and English decades ago.
Multiple articles over the last few months have proclaimed that “humanities fall from favor,” “interest fades in the humanities,” or that the humanities are “under strain around the globe.”
Commentators tend to attribute the decline to two major developments: significant funding cuts to history, literature, and arts programs at public universities and political criticism of the humanities. Republican governors have proposed cuts to humanities departments at state universities to rebalance funding towards more obviously “practical” subjects. North Carolina’s governor Patrick
McCrory stated in January 2013 that he planned to change the state’s legislation on higher education funding so that “it’s not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs.” Like other critics, McCrory did not want taxpayers to subsidize subjects that did not seem to lead directly to students securing a job.
n the United States, the debate continues about massive budget cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities for 2014, while some state universities in Pennsylvania even plan to close music and language departments. The problem extends beyond American borders. Since 2009, funding for arts and humanities has decreased around the world.
These are serious developments and they demand a serious response. But the apparent crisis is not what it seems. As someone who spends much of her time speaking to students about their choice of majors, I believe that many people have actually been talking past the issue.
The histrionics have masked a deeper story—a story of women’s choices in higher education......
Financing for college humanities programs has fallen steadily in the United States since 2009, echoing a trend across the globe.
In the global marketplace of higher education, the humanities are increasingly threatened by decreased funding and political attacks.
Financing for humanities research in the United States has fallen steadily since 2009, and in 2011 was less than half of one percent of the amount dedicated to science and engineering research and development. This trend is echoed globally: According to a report in Research Trends magazine, by Gali Halevi and Judit Bar-Ilan, international arts and humanities funding has been in constant decline since 2009.
Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association of America, says the decline in funding for humanities research in the United States is related both to fiscal emergencies and “the devaluing of the humanities, especially by legislators who themselves have not experienced first-hand the value of studying the humanities.”
A professor at Stanford recently advised me to stay away from majoring in Comparative Literature because it would not lead to any lucrative jobs outside of academia. Being the pro-humanities advocate that I am, I was not only shocked and infuriated by this inane remark but also even more disillusioned about elite higher education today.
In this technology- and cash-driven modern age, I understand why a lot of my peers are aspiring computer scientists, engineers or economists. Getting a tangible, “technical” major seems like the “sensible” thing to do, and yet I have struggled to deal with this reality.
I love literature. Wresting with great texts, getting my heart broken by a Dostoevsky line or sighing my afternoon away with Du Fu are a few things I would like to do on a daily basis.
The problem is that those activities neither translate directly into a six-figure occupation nor spell out ‘success’ the way most people like to define it. I am terrified of being that Stanford graduate who spends years crafting some lofty novel just to realize that maybe getting a job as an accountant is more realistic.
So I recently went to my meeting with my so-called “pre-major advisor” (PMA), this emotional baggage sagging on my back, hoping he would at least have wise things to say to alleviate my stress about finding a major.
To leave his name undisclosed, I will start calling this person Mr. PMA. Sitting in his chair with a magnanimous smile, Mr. PMA told me first thing that Comparative Literature would sound too academic on my CV.
Defending my hurt ego, I mumbled something about how, despite being a theoretical field, CompLit could connect me with other disciplines. Life is really about being sensitive to those myriad perspectives anyway, isn’t it? Well no, Mr. PMA asserted. He had been “a hirer” before, and CompLit definitely did not sound great on resumes.
He then went on to tell me that he was an English major in college, but soon realized that writing novels was not a financially sound idea. Instead, he started to train for journalism. Today, he writes for foreign affairs magazines and actually has managed to fulfill his college dream by publishing on the side.
This professional journalist and writer basically told me that I should not major in something that I love because it was not job-friendly.
Needless to say, I walked out of Mr. PMA’s office with a heart heavier and more burdened than the moment I walked in. Were my parents right after all? Should I major in something simply because it is instrumental in getting a good job?
The point, as Adam Gopnik said in his recent talk at Stanford, is that we choose the humanities because ultimately we are human. Human beings will never stop making and discussing art, whether it is an exhilarating Games of Thrones episode or a dense Proust volume in French. It is an urge, a fervent calling.
Therefore, if some people decide to brand themselves with a humanities major badge just to get an edge in the job recruitment process later, I would argue that they would soon regret this inauthentic attitude.
The same goes for engineering. The number of undergraduate majors in engineering is said to have tripled in the last five years. The naïve, hopeful part of me would like to believe that all Stanford graduating engineers majored in Computer Science, Management Science & Engineering and other great engineering disciplines because they enjoyed studying it and want to change the world with their expertise. The reality is that a lot of my friends feel pressured to major in engineering because of external influences.
Of course, I am only speaking from my limited conversations with friends on campus, but I know for a fact that a few of my anguished friends who actually are secret poets, painters, beatboxers, musicians and multimedia artists end up giving up on the “useless” humanities and enrolling in large engineering lectures where they fall asleep or skip altogether.
As for myself, a firmly undecided major who loves art and literature, I still have no answer on what I want to do. I know one thing for sure: I cannot blindly follow my PMA’s highly pragmatic and spiritually empty advice to compete for prestigious internships in the hope of attaining some well-paid job, even when it contains little meaning or intrinsic value.
I guess it all boils down to the fact that, at some moment fifty years from now, when I am old, wise, and about to die, I do not want to tell my grandchildren to check out my super resume. I want to leave behind something meaningful.
Many now view college as, at its essence, only a conduit to a good job, and if you say you’re studying painting or photography, someone is bound to roll their eyes, certain that you’re only biding your time until you’re allowed access to your trust fund.
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice David H. Souter says the humanities are "getting the short end of the stick" — and called on citizens to rally and battle to restore them.
In a rare appearance in Albany on Thursday, the 1990 appointee of President George H.W. Bush to the nation's highest court expressed his views on law, politics and read poetry while addressing an estimated 325 listeners in Clark Auditorium at the State Museum.
"We are not asking for favors," Souter said. "We are arguing for the survival of the United States as we know it."
Souter, 73, of New Hampshire, a Republican judge who became one of the top court's more liberal members before retiring in 2009, pulled few punches while delivering his thoughts on a new report issued by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences' Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, of which Souter is a member.
In a recent six-year period, Souter said, the federal share of funding for humanities research dropped by one-third. And he said funding for social sciences is under attack.
Humanities range from history to literature to law to theater, language and philosophy. The report Souter highlighted found that reading for pleasure declined 11 percent between 1992 and 2008 — and that less than 30 percent of high school seniors are proficient in writing, history and civics.
"The humanities and social sciences, in effect, should tell us who we have been, who we have come from, who we are and who we may be," Souter said. "I'm assuming that probably everyone in this room understands that if the humanities and the social sciences are, in fact, going to be revived to the level of support that their significance deserves, we are the troops that are going to have to fight the battle ... no one else is going to do it."
The Harvard-educated Souter said the public would need to persuade various powers-that-be of the importance of the importance of humanities. He said forums such as Thursday's are like "training camps" for people who want to revive the humanities.
"For the sake of the spirit of liberty, humane learning, humane teaching in the United States must not get short shrifted," Souter said to end his nearly one-hour speech, to applause.
The vast majority of humanities graduates are happy with their choice of degree, says the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
More undergraduates majored in the humanities in 2011 than did so a decade ago, but federal support for research in those disciplines accounted for less than one-half of 1 percent of the money given to colleges for science and engineering.
Those two data points appear in a new "report card" on the humanitiesthat was released on Tuesday by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in an effort to keep the topic of the humanities in the public eye.
While worrying about the state of the humanities is a perennial topic, it has attracted renewed attention after recent reports by the academy and byHarvard University, said John E. Tessitore, director of programming for the academy, which is based in Cambridge, Mass.
"There's been a steady conversation going on about the place of the humanities in American life," Mr. Tessitore said. "This was an attempt to capitalize on that."
The report card does not contain new data. It gathers information from the 233-year-old academy's continuing compilation of statistics, which it calls the humanities indicators, and highlights some bright spots in what is often described in gloomy terms.
For example, about four million people worked in humanities-related jobs, like museum curator or humanities teacher, from 2007 to 2009. More than 115,000 students earned baccalaureate degrees in the humanities in 2011, a 20-percent increase in absolute terms over a decade earlier. And 84 percent of students who earned bachelor's degrees in the humanities said they were satisfied with their choice of major one year after graduation.
There is still plenty of gloom, too. The share of all bachelor's degrees conferred in the humanities continues to be fairly small, at about 11 percent, though that has been the case for decades. And humanities research receives 0.48 percent of what the federal research budget gives to higher education for science and engineering.
The report card also shares some tidbits that are neither good nor bad but interesting: 19 percent of the members of Congress majored in the humanities as undergraduates, a share exceeded by the 26 percent who earned degrees in vocational fields and the 37 percent in the social sciences. The least frequent major was "the sciences," at 8 percent.
While such data add nuance to the discussion of the role of the humanities, it will probably not answer larger questions about the relevance and more-lasting results of earning a degree in those subjects, said Robert B. Townsend, director of the academy's Washington office.
"You'd love to have more data on how majors affect somebody's long-term career or their voting patterns," he said, "but such things haven't been quantified."
What can we do to make the case for the humanities? Unlike the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), they do not—on the surface—contribute to the national defense. It is difficult to measure, precisely, their effect on the GDP, or our employment rates, or the stock market.
And yet, we know in our bones that secular humanism is one of the greatest sources of strength we possess as a nation, and that we must protect the humanities if we are to retain that strength in the century ahead.
I do not exactly hail from the center of the humanities. I’m an economist, with a specialization in health and economic development. When you ask economists to weigh in on an issue, the chances are good that we will ultimately get around to a basic question: “Is it worth it?” Support for the humanities is more than worth it. It is essential.
We all know that there has been a fair amount of hostility to this idea recently in Congress and in State Houses around the country. Sometimes it almost feels as if there is a National Alliance against the Humanities. There are frequent potshots by radio commentators, and calls to reduce government spending in education and scholarship in the humanities.
It has become fashionable to attack government for being out of touch, bloated, and elitist; and humanities funding often strikes critics as an especially muddle-headed form of government spending. For that reason, the humanities are in danger of becoming even more of a punching bag than they already are.
In the current economic environment, these attacks have the potential to sway people. Any expenditure has to be clearly worth it. “Performance funding” links government support to disciplines that provide high numbers of jobs. Or, as in a Florida proposal that emerged last year, a “strategic” tuition structure would essentially charge more money to students who want to study the humanities and less money for those going into the STEM disciplines.
As a result, there is grave cause for concern. Federal support for the humanities is heading in the wrong direction. In fiscal year 2013, the National Endowment for the Humanities was funded at $139 million, down $28.5 million from FY 2010, at a time when science funding stayed mostly intact. This is part of a pattern of long-term decline since the Reagan years.
Ibelieve the question is fair. Are the humanities worth it? To push back against the recent tide of criticism, I’d like to offer several strategies....
Despite constant advice to focus on hard sciences or engineering, there are still many good reasons to major in liberal arts.
If you look at a chart of post-graduate salaries, the liberal arts don't look very appealing. But that doesn't tell the whole story.
If you study and set out to find a job in a narrow academic area, you're going to have a hard time. But if you're smart about it and do something like what Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell suggests and supplement the major with in-demand skills, you're a member of an "endangered species" who can think and write well, and for whom there's a surprising amount of demand.
That demand is well warranted, so here's 10 reasons why you should ignore the haters and major in liberal arts.
For those of you who have already graduated, it's never too late to hit the books again. Here are 11 reasons:
“You shouldn’t enter college worried about what you will do when you exit,” David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, said at a World Economic Forum panel discussion last week on the state of the humanities.
This Is Irrefutable Evidence Of The Value Of A Humanities Education
Here are 10 highly successful people, from TV hosts to presidential candidates to Wall Street CEOs, who prove that humanities majors are anything but useless -- and that money isn't a very good judge of a college major.
Yes, students need to understand what skills are marketable. But they also need to study subjects that keep them engaged enough to graduate.
The cliche about majoring in humanities is that it's a lovely way to spend four years of college and poor way to land a lucrative job. To some extent, that cliche may be true. On the whole, humanities grads earn less than students who study disciplines like business or engineering. So sayeth the statistics.
But the Association of American Colleges and Universities would like you to know that getting a degree in English or History, while perhaps not the most financially rewarding choice, doesn't require an oath of poverty either. Over a lifetime, they note, typical humanities and social science majors earn similarly to graduates who study practical, pre-professional fields such as education or nursing.
Great charts and additional info in the article....
Liberal arts majors may start off slower than others when it comes to the postgraduate career path, but they close much of the salary and unemployment gap over time, a new report shows.
By their mid-50s, liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates. But that’s just one part of the paper’s overall argument that concerns about the value of a liberal arts degree “are unfounded and should be put to rest.”
“That’s a myth out there – that somehow if you major in humanities, you’re doomed to be unemployed for the rest of your life. This suggests otherwise,” said Debra Humphreys, a co-author of the report and vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “That sort of journey to professional success is more of a marathon than a sprint.”
The report, “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment,” includes U.S. Census data from 2010 and 2011 and is a joint project of AAC&U and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Humphreys and her co-author, Patrick Kelly, a senior associate at NCHEMS, looked at long-term career path and salary data as an answer to the many short-term studies on recent graduates that have fueled the assertion that liberal arts graduates are disproportionately un- or underemployed.
For those with humanistic and artistic life interests, our economic system has almost nothing to offer.
“Crisis” and “decline” are the words of the day in discussions of the humanities. A primary stimulus for the concern is a startling factoid: only 8 percent of undergraduates major in humanities. But this figure is misleading. It does not include majors in closely related fields such as history, journalism and some of the social sciences. Nor does it take account of the many required and elective humanities courses students take outside their majors. Most important, the 8 percent includes only those with a serious academic interest in literature, music and art, not those devoted to producing the artistic works that humanists study.
Once we recognize that deeply caring about the humanities (including the arts) does not require majoring in philosophy, English or foreign languages, it’s not at all obvious that there is a crisis of interest in the humanities, at least in our universities.
Is the crisis rather one of harsh economic reality? Humanities majors on average start earning $31,000 per year and move to an average of $50,000 in their middle years. (The figures for writers and performing artists are much lower.) By contrast, business majors start with salaries 26 percent higher than humanities majors and move to salaries 51 percent higher.
Success in life requires a sensibility about the world and one’s place in it.
Improving U.S. education in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — has become a popular cause. With U.S. competitiveness in the global economy at stake, educators and policymakers have championed increasing the number of college graduates in these fields, reducing attrition among students interested in STEM fields and even discounting college tuition for STEM students.
The overall objective is important. We — one of us a biochemist who leads a large, public university in the Midwest; the other a computer scientist who leads a private university in Silicon Valley — believe deeply that our country’s scientific and technological capacity is critical to its economic future.
But we also have cause for concern. Amid the push for science and engineering and the pervasive pressure on many students to obtain, above all else, career skills from their undergraduate education, our country risks marginalizing the humanities and social sciences. We cannot allow that to happen. These disciplines play an important role in educating students for future leadership and deal most directly with the human condition.
The humanities — history, literature, languages, art, philosophy — and the social sciences focus on the lasting challenges relevant to all of us: creating lives of purpose and meaning, appreciating diversity and complexity, communicating effectively with others and overcoming adversity. Ultimately, our ability to work meaningfully with others will determine the success of our enterprises, and that ability is honed through the humanities and social sciences.
hat is why the humanities and social sciences are an essential part of undergraduate education. Most successful careers, including in technology and engineering, do not result simply from technical knowledge. They require leadership skills, social and emotional intelligence, cultural understanding, a capacity for strategic decision-making and a global perspective.
Understandably, there has been a notable shift in students’ self-interests concerning the value of their college education. A recent New York Times article claims the purpose of college has been gradually transforming from receiving an all-encompassing education into establishing a credential-training ground that will guarantee graduates a decent job.
As a result, students are led to believe that degrees awarded within the humanities have decreased. According to a 2003 survey by the Humanities Resource Center Online of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, degrees went from 17.7 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 1970 to 6.7 percent in 2003. The absolute number of degrees awarded in the humanities declined, from 99,280 to 65,423 — during a period when total undergraduate enrollments at American colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, increased by over 80 percent.
But despite many reports detailing the drop of humanities majors since the 1970s, the number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities has grown steadily since its low point in the 1980s, with more than 185,000 degrees reported in each year from 2009 to 2011. In response, Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies,lamented this gradual departure from the former worth of a college education: “College is increasingly being defined narrowly as job preparation, not as something designed to educate the whole person.”
Brilliant commentary on how the eroding value our nation places on the humanities is impacting our ability to lead and interact with the world.
On this day in 1938, when Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany to avoid a general European war, most of the world hailed it as bringing “peace in our time.” Anti-war public opinion was strongly influenced by bitter memories of World War I and disillusionment with the flawed peace that followed.
Britain’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlin caught the mood nicely, observing, “How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.”
But British essayist Harold Nicolson believed that appeasement would guarantee war, not avoid it.
Nicolson wrote “This confirms me in the thought that diplomacy is based upon a knowledge of foreign psychology and that it is owing to the lack of that knowledge... that the government has landed us in war.”
By “psychology” Nicolson meant culture - literature, music, the arts, cuisine, fashion, a society’s manner of living and thinking, everything that determined character and behavior - in other words, the humanities; not simply economics and politics.
Nicolson’s wisdom resonates today. Whether we favor American intervention in the Middle East or not, we’re hampered by a fundamental lack of knowledge of the peoples and cultures with which we deal. Without it, Americans – like the British of the 1930’s – are condemned to set policy wearing cultural blinders. As we’ve learned from recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, such tunnel vision doesn’t serve us well.
Nicolson argued that only thorough grounding in the humanities permitted the cross-cultural understanding necessary for international success. But Americans have never been good about supporting the humanities and Congress now threatens to cut federal humanities funding in half.
This would be a mistake. Thirty years ago, a national commission published a disturbing review of American education called “A Nation At Risk”. The authors concluded, "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." As our eroding commitment to the humanities demonstrates, we’ve done little since to address the problem.
At the same time, we glory in American exceptionalism, a concept which carries the implicit assumption that the world understands and accepts us simply because of what and who we are. We’re learning that’s not true. If America is truly to lead others the least we can do is to try to understand them. Endeavoring to see the world as others see it is not weakness but a strength that protects us from folly.
It’s ironic that, as America has assumed a larger role in the wider world, we’ve consistently reduced our attention to the study of the very things that would make that role effective. We are indeed the architects of our own frustration.
New doctoral enrollments in the arts and humanities have been been going up very modestly -- an average of 1 percent annually -- for a decade. But data being released today by the Council of Graduate Schools show that in the fall of 2012, arts and humanities doctoral programs saw a 7.7 percent increase -- a surprising jump given the difficulty many new Ph.D.s in those fields have in finding jobs.
Such an increase could add to the glut of humanities Ph.D.s that has grown as the economic downturn has left so many who have been unable to find tenure-track jobs.
Of the broad disciplinary categories in which the council analyzes data, only public administration and services had a larger percentage increase in new Ph.D. enrollments (7.8 percent), but those are fields in which many new doctorates work in government or consulting. The rate of increase in Ph.D. enrollments for arts and humanities outpaced gains in fields such as engineering, math and computer science and business -- where there is much more demand for new faculty openings and where non-academic jobs abound for Ph.D.s.
The annual report from the graduate council covers master's and doctoral programs across disciplines. The total change in new graduate enrollments was an increase of 1.8 percent, following two years of declines. Graduate enrollment overall was down by 2.3 percent in 2012. But because of the length of graduate programs, new enrollments are the better indicator of what's happening in a given year, so the increase in that category will likely please many college officials.
However, the figures show that the increase is entirely due to gains in international foreign students, and domestic enrollment levels are flat. The role of international students remains particularly crucial in science and technology disciplines.
CFOs must have accounting and finance training to succeed, but undergraduate degrees in the humanities and social sciences are what propelled these six executives to the top finance spot.
University liberal-arts degree programs, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, are under fire for allegedly not training students for the jobs that will drive their careers and the economy in the future. To the vast majority of CFOs who have undergraduate degrees in accounting, finance and business, that may seem logical.
But most finance chiefs who chose to focus in college on humanities or social sciences are passionate defenders of the value that educational experience has contributed to their careers. Specifically, they say, it taught them how to bring a multidimensional approach to problem solving, to understand the drivers of people’s behavior, to communicate effectively and to adapt to new and evolving business environments.
CFOs may want to take that into account when evaluating candidates for their team. To be sure, concern has been rising for years over a perceived shortage of young talent well-schooled in business, finance and accounting and ready to make an impact in a corporate job. And indeed, all of the CFOs interviewed for this article say they regularly hire candidates with the more traditional backgrounds and don’t see liberal arts as a “better” breeding ground for future finance executives. Still, they believe equally strongly that a post-graduate degree in business, finance or accounting is sufficient training for entry-level jobs and that their undergraduate experience has contributed much toward making them well-rounded executives.
“Whenever I’m interviewing for a job, they ask how a psychology major became an accountant,” says Marie Epstein, head of finance at Plastiq, a startup credit-card-payment processor. “I say, ‘Isn’t it obvious? Accounting is not just nuts and bolts, numbers and spreadsheets. There’s a tremendous human dimension to everything that goes on in business.’ I’m glad I wasn’t just in debits and credits as an undergrad.”
Variously situated CFOs who have liberal-arts degrees speak out on their formative years, how they wound up in finance, and the role that their undergraduate education plays for them today.
The humanities are not against conventional success; far from it. Many of our students go on to distinguished careers in law and business. But I like to think they do so with a fuller social and self-awareness than most people. For they have approached success as a matter of debate, not as an idol of worship. They have considered the options. They have called “success” into question and, after due consideration, they have decided to pursue it. I have to imagine that such people are far better employees than those who have moved lockstep into their occupations. I also believe that self-aware, questioning people tend to be far more successful in the long run.
What makes humanities students different isn’t their power of expression, their capacity to frame an argument or their ability to do independent work. Yes, these are valuable qualities, and we humanities teachers try to cultivate them. But true humanities students are exceptional because they have been, and are, engaged in the activity that Plato commends — seeking to understand themselves and how they ought to lead their lives.