- A new study from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences questioned workers about their earnings, status at work and job satisfaction, and found that workers with college degrees in the humanities are equally happy with their careers as workers with degrees in engineering, sciences or business. The report states that nearly 87% of humanities graduates were satisfied with their jobs, and that over time, and that their wages effectively catch up with those of workers with STEM and business degrees.
- As reported in Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education, the study undercuts basic assumptions about humanities graduates having poor earnings potential and dead-end job prospects. The report suggests that a college degree in the humanities is quite valuable, especially when not assessed through a purely financial lens.
- A clear strength of a humanities degree is its flexibility, the report noted, so humanities graduates are not bound to a specific career and are employable in a range of fields.
Ahead higher education reform negotiations, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions last week released his vision for change. Generally, Chairman Lamar Alexander’s white paper assessed something that most agree on, that federal accountability over higher education spending is inadequate and unfair. However, Alexander's proposed “return on investment” guided reform strikes at the core divide in higher education.
By framing reform around programs of study that produce the biggest financial value, the memo appears to be built on the same set of basic assumptions that the American Academy of Arts & Sciences' humanities report seeks to debunk: The idea that investing in business, science and engineering majors is more beneficial to students than taking subjects like English, history and philosophy. As the price of higher education grows considerably, and along with it federal expenditures, the question of ROI grows more potent and colleges are under more pressure to comply.
However, by illuminating the strengths of a college degree in the humanities, the report showed than a humanities education is also valuable in the workforce and can lead to financially-successful careers. People pursuing doctorate degrees also have to contend with the idea that Ph.D graduates are hard to employ, but recent research suggests that is not accurate either.
Should education reform be shaped around clear investment returns? If anything, lawmakers should take a step back, pursue gradual process, and be careful about the dangers of sweeping reform.