Published: Oct 26, 2016
Last month I wrote about how, in the long run, liberal arts majors might earn just as much or more than their peers who graduate with science, business, and other so-called "useful" majors. And now, as it turns out, or at least as a new study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows, liberal arts majors, particularly those who study English and foreign language, might be on their way to making just as much or more in the short run, too.
Overall, pay for liberal arts graduates rose sharply for the class of 2015, moving closer to business graduates’ starting pay, according to Mr. Koc [NACE’s director of research, public policy and legislative affairs].
“I’ll be interested to see if it’s a one-year quirk or whether it continues to boom in that direction,” he said.
Those with degrees in English and in foreign languages also brought home bigger paychecks, with starting salaries rising 14.3% and 13.6%, respectively.
Behind the numbers is a growing desire among employers for hires with strong communication skills, said Mr. Koc. After complaining that new hires’ soft skills are not up to par, “employers may be reconsidering how they’re approaching recruiting college graduates, and may not be so focused on hiring a particular major,” he said.
Faring even better than English and foreign langauge majors were those who concentrated in Latin American Studies and Gender Studies. Salaries for those majors increased by more than 26 percent, as the demand rose for graduates comfortable working in multicultural environments and who, like English majors, typically have strong communication skills.
However, average salaries for area studies majors were still less than two-thirds the average earnings of computer science majors, which had the highest starting salaries among graduates. Area studies averaged $43,524 a year, while computer science majors earned on average $69,214 a year.
Majors that still keep parents up at night include history (starting salaries only rose 3.7 percent on the year) and visual and performing arts (the only area of study that saw graduation rates fall on the year).
Overall, the NACE study was good news for the undervalued and under-appreciated liberal arts major, and indeed seems to point to the growing need not only for technical skills but also for so-called soft skills. Now, all forms of communication (written, verbal, visual) are highly valued by employers; nearly every job posting, at any level, in any company, in any industry, includes some form of "stong communication skills required."
And so, students, new graduates, and experienced employees alike should continue to find ways to improve these skills, as well as to continue to find ways to put them on display so employers can easily find and assess them.
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It is commonly believed, by parents everywhere, that the quickest road to the poor house (that's what my parents called it) is for their college-age children to major in Russian history, comparative literature, Kantian philosophy, or some other so-called useless field of concentration that has no practical use whatsoever. However, as it turns out, and as studies show, majors in these and other liberal arts concentrations might ultimately lead children not to their parents' basement but to a fat pot of gold at the end of the poor house rainbow.