Go Philosophy! More Good News about a Liberal Arts Education

Pointed out in InsideHigherEd, and The Fiscal Times among several reports, a recent study from the Association for American College and Universities (AACU) stated that “liberal arts majors enjoy comparable long-term career prospects as students who obtain degrees in more “useful” fields. Students who study the liberal arts do about as well as most college graduates in terms of annual salaries and employment rates.”

Also coming out this week, information on the liberal arts from, perhaps, a less expected source. This week, Forbes released its 2014 Midas List, which lists technology’s top venture capitalist investors based on, in general terms, who earned the best returns on the deals they received payouts from during 2014.

The actual deals aren’t the point of this post, however the largest deals mentioned were newsmakers, including the $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook, the purchase of Nest ($3.2B) by Google, and continuing returns from investments in Facebook, LinkedIn, AirBnB, Waze and Twitter.

The list measures success based on an individual’s ability to correctly judge the merits of a business proposal, and to make a high return on investment. And since these are technology deals, the thinking may be that these individuals have computer science, engineering or some other STEM-related degree.

When Forbes took a closer look, they actually “found that Midas Listers were about as likely to be philosophers, historians, or jazz musicians as they were computer scientists.” The 2014 Midas Listers’ undergraduate degrees were about equally split between BS (45%) and BA (46%) degrees, and while most had advanced degrees, about a third of the list only had the undergraduate credential.

One of the more interesting examples is Peter Thiel, #4 on the list, who obtained a BA in Philosophy from Stanford University in 1989, and also famously started the Thiel Fellowship program in 2011. Individuals under the age of 19 are “given a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college [for two years] and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education. [The fellows are] mentored by [a] network of visionary thinkers, investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs, who provide guidance and business connections that can’t be replicated in any classroom. Rather than just studying, you’re doing.”

And speaking of philosophy majors, this past January Business Insider came out with a list of successful business executives who graduated with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. In addition to Thiel, the list includes such notables as former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, hedge fund manager George Soros, former FDIC chair, Sheila Bair, and activist investor Carl Icahn.

As stated in The Fiscal Times, “[t]he authors [of the AACU report] also point to recent surveys showing that employers place a high value on the critical thinking and learning skills that the liberal arts cultivates. Eight in ten employers agreed that “all students should acquire broad knowledge in liberal arts and sciences.” In fact, almost 30 percent of employers surveyed said they wanted employees to have a range of knowledge and skills applicable to a wide range of jobs.” Go Philosophy!

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