A Bad Week for the Liberal Arts

Was last week a bad week for the liberal arts and liberal arts majors? Not really, but it was hard to tell with headlines such as Liberal Arts Majors are Screwed, (More) bad news for liberal arts majors, and New Study: Is No Degree Better Than a Liberal Arts Degree. All three headlines were referring to a report released last week from Millennial Branding and Beyond.com, The Multi-Generational Job Search Study 2014.

The report summary states that “[t]he survey looked at Gen Z (Ages 20 or younger), Gen Y (Ages 21-32), Gen X (Ages 33-49), and Baby Boomers (Ages 50-68). Responses were then segmented into whether the respondent was an employer, or a job seeker.”

Dan Schawbel from Millennial Branding, in a Business Insider article, stated “[the survey] found that only 2 percent of employers are actively recruiting liberal arts degree holders. Compare that to the 27 percent that are recruiting engineering and computer information systems majors and 18 percent that are recruiting business majors.” Schawbel continued, “What’s more, 49 percent of all generations responded that they believe there are “no jobs” out there for those with a liberal arts degree.”

Susan Adams, in her Forbes.com blog post, commented on the survey results regarding the importance of obtaining a college degree, “…a striking 64 percent of hiring managers said they would consider a candidate who hadn’t gone to a day of college.” In addition, nearly 8 percent said “[a college degree is] not important. I’m looking for the candidate with the best experience.” Schawbel concluded from these results that “You don’t really need to have a college degree.”

Adams did pull out some positive information from the results. “Demonstrating the skills that employers want is more important, [Schawbel] says. When asked about the top three attributes they want in a candidate, hiring managers said a positive attitude (84%), communication skills (83%) and an ability to work as a team (74%).” Adams argues, and I would agree, that successful humanities majors demonstrate those attributes.

Schawbel states that, “[e]ven though liberal arts majors have some of the best soft skills, based on the courses they take, employers perceive them as less valuable. Employers view a liberal arts degree as too general for placement.”

These survey results are counter to several reports that stress the importance of the foundational skills that are gained by the liberal arts major and by the professional major with a significant liberal arts core component, and that many surveys show are valued by companies. For example, Adams reported on a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey, with a significantly larger sample size of employers/ hiring managers than the Schawbel survey, that the skills most in demand by employers are found in candidates who can make decisions, solve problems, communicate clearly, analyze data and prioritize their work, all critical skills gained by a broad liberal arts education.

Adams concluded her recent post with a quote from Dan Black, the president of NACE, “…the recession-tainted employment picture seems to be clearing. ‘Many students have had front row seats to a soft economy for some years…That’s finally starting to change.’” This is good news for all graduates.

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