Will A Liberal Arts Degree Pay Off?


The Social Science Research Council found graduates who excelled in writing, critical thinking and reasoning fared well financially after college. (Photo Illustration by Katherine Fotinos/The Observer)


If you’re between the ages of 18 and 24, only 54 percent of you have jobs, according to a study released Feb. 9 by the Pew Research center. With news like this often making headlines, some students at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) may be second-guessing majors in subjects like English, philosophy and theology, wondering whether a more technical degree would guarantee a job that would pay the rent after graduation.But getting a degree in one of these areas might actually be a good thing. Many liberal arts majors tend to focus on critical thinking, reading and writing—skills that, according to a recent study, may pay off in the long run.

The Social Science Research Council found graduates who excelled in writing, critical thinking and reasoning fared well financially after college. (Photo Illustration by Katherine Fotinos/The Observer)

The Social Science Research Council released a study in January that said college graduates who had high scores on standardized testing that measures writing, critical thinking and reasoning skills, which are typical of a liberal arts education, fared better financially after college than those with lower scores. Furthermore, the study said that students who possessed these skills were three times more likely to have a job than those who were less developed in these areas. In addition, liberal arts students had less credit card debt and were more likely to live on their own than with their parents.

Even so, it’s hard to fathom that studying poetry and art will really have the potential to be financially lucrative, especially with studies that show how degrees in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math—have higher a probability of job security and better pay. This begs the question, is a liberal arts degree really worth it for students already taking on debt?

Bernard Stratford, director of experiential education at Fordham’s career services, said that while a liberal arts foundation allows students to think, reflect, speak, read and write effectively, the immediate financial implications post grad aren’t guaranteed.

“The numbers are clear that business students initially, for the first 10 years or so, make more money than a liberal arts person unless you have a liberal arts person who is also a finance wizard and winds up in business,” Stratford said. “Somewhere after about 10 years that sort of changes as people with liberal arts skills are more effective in moving through a corporation and developing relationships on the way.”

While some students choose majors that typically correlate to a specific career path such as computer science, business, natural science and other more technical degrees, others choose ones that have a more elusive future. Especially at FCLC, where majors like theater, dance and communications are popular, students often find themselves questioning how many job offers they will have once they get their diplomas.

“A lot of our majors are not something you can find employment in with a bachelor’s degree,” said Robert Moniot, associate professor of computer and information science. “The number of jobs in fields like anthropology and history are few for students with an undergraduate degree.”

According to a study released by Georgetown University, unemployment rates are higher for students in non-technical majors. Humanities and liberal arts have an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, social science 8.9 percent and architecture at the highest—13.9 percent.

While the skills-based knowledge developed in specific majors may prove useful in the inevitable job search, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee employment. And employers aren’t just searching for individuals with the know-how, they are looking for job candidates who are well rounded as well.

“I know there is a mindset that is contrary to the idea of liberal arts and is focused on getting job skills, but I don’t think that’s the right attitude to have,” Moniot said. “Businesses don’t really want to just get graduates who have already studied all of the techniques used in that business—they’re going to teach them that stuff on the job. They would rather have someone who is bright and knowledgeable than someone who just focuses on the content of their courses.”

The extensive Fordham core that even students on specific tracts like pre-med and dance are required to take, could have a deeper impact than some students realize. The core is grounded in liberal arts and is focused on developing a student’s critical thinking and writing skills. These are things that, according to the study by the Social Science Research Council, are highly marketable in the job world today.

“Employers are looking for your ability to read and think critically, write clearly and communicate clearly,” said William Jaworski, associate professor of philosophy. “I think it’s clear that if you get a liberal arts degree you’re going to be guaranteed to develop certain kinds of skills employers are looking for.”

While it may be unclear now which major is ideal for financial security, liberal arts foundation can’t hurt, and some students choose Fordham because of its commitment to this way of education.

“Everyone’s going to face a tough job market,” Jaworksi said. “The question is going to be whether you’ve made an investment in yourself and whether you’ll be able to bring to your job interview the kind of presence, maturity and skill set that employers want to see.”

Source: Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce “Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal”