Yes, The Liberal Arts are Still Worth It

Kelton Holsen, Co-Editor-In-Chief

If you have ever shown the slightest amount of interest in the arts or humanities–English, history, film, religion or what have you–you have probably gotten a lot of pushback from some well-meaning (but completely brainwashed) people in your life. Don’t follow your passion, they say, wringing their hands and looking dramatically into the sky, because you will not make any money. You will end up with a useless degree and work at McDonald’s your whole life (at this point, they look at you like they are explaining that Santa is not real). You will live in your parents basement and have absolutely no use for your double major in Spanish and philosophy. If you get nothing else from this article, then please at least take this away: THOSE PEOPLE ARE WRONG ON NEARLY EVERY LEVEL.

If you are a major in business or a STEM field reading this and thinking “this author is probably going to go on about the inherent benefits of being a liberal arts major and ignore the actual factual difference in pay,” keep reading, because you are wrong. In fact, for your benefit, I will get this out of the way first: Yes, the STEM majors make about ten or twenty thousand more a year than anyone else, at least during the first years of work. But humanities majors are incredibly employable, with a median salary of $52,000 per year according to insidehighered.com and employment statistics relatively up to snuff with other fields. In fact, a 2018 study by Burning Glass showed that the highest rates of unemployment for college graduates are among–gasp–business majors. Oops.

So why is this the case? After all, as the smug people from the first paragraph might say, there are not that many jobs in history, in literature, in painting. And they are technically correct, but that does not mean that someone who has studied the humanities and arts is unemployable. The same analytical and writing skills that are used to dissect complex writings and to churn out ten-page papers, it turns out, are very useful in many workplaces. “Soft” skills such as critical thinking and interacting with other people are very much in demand for managers, analysts, planners and marketers–oh, and they are also a lot harder to automate. Not only do liberal arts majors often find gainful employment, 87 percent of them say they are satisfied with their job.

Now, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute. If these people end up in the kind of job where you write emails and plan business strategies…why don’t they just become business and communications majors?” I ask you this: If you want someone who will be writing things that represent your company, do you hire the person who spent four years learning to write deep and meaningful essays, or the person who spent four years learning to write an email?

As has been stated before by many, many, other writers, the liberal arts also give a host of benefits, including a deep connection to the history of humanity and an enriched enjoyment of art and literature. Quite frankly, they are good for the soul. The data points to the conclusion that if you study the liberal arts, you will not only get a job, you will be happy.

The question that I then pose for my supposedly very data-driven friends in STEM and business fields is this: for what purpose are the myths about the liberal arts being spread? In my time at Augsburg I, among others, have seen a disturbing trend in how we approach education. Every year, fewer students go into the liberal arts and more go into fields like business and communications, which purportedly teach the same skills but with a very strong corporate bent; instead of thinking critically about the human condition, one thinks about how to make the most money. Augsburg, who claims to enrich students with a strong sense of vocation, has been expanding programs that I cannot help but feel exist to train students to be a useful corporate drone, skilled only in doing the work of the military-industrial complex.

In conclusion, if you are a major in STEM, business or communications and you are feeling rather cross with me right now, I understand. And if you feel that it is your calling, keep at it–we also need programmers, accountants, chemists, and if that is your passion, follow it. But let those in the liberal arts follow theirs without the smugness, because to be frank, we are going to do fine, thank you very much. And if you, reading this, are currently in a major because someone told you it was the way to make money, I hope you will consider your passions and which is more important to you: some more money in your wallet, or a life that you will feel satisfied with.