AACU How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment

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    How Liberal Artsand Sciences MajorsFare in Employment -

    By Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly

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    How Liberal Artsand Sciences MajorsFare in Employment -

    By Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly

    With a foreword byCarol Geary Schneider and Peter Ewell

    Association

    of American

    Collegesand

    Universities

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    1818 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

    2014 by the Association o American Colleges and Universities.All rights reserved.ISBN 978-0-9890972-2-2

    Tis report was made possible with unding rom the National Endowment orthe Humanities, the Spencer Foundation, and the eagle Foundation.

    Te views, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication do notnecessarily represent those o the National Endowment or the Humanities, the Spencer Foundation,or the eagle Foundation.

    o order copies o this publication or to learn about other AAC&U publications,visit www.aacu.org, e-mail pub_desk@aacu.org, or call 202-387-3760.

    Association

    of American

    Colleges and

    Universities

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    Contents

    Foreword by Carol Geary Schneider and Peter Ewell v

    Acknowledgments viii

    Introduction 1

    1. Is a College Degree Still a Good Investment? 4

    2. How Important Is the Choice o Undergraduate Major? 6

    3. What Are the Median Earnings and Employment Rates 8

    or Graduates in Different Fields?

    4. What Difference Do Graduate and Proessional Degrees Make? 12

    5.What Proessions Do Graduates in Different Fields Pursue? 14

    6.What Role Do Different Fields Play in Education and Social Services Proessions? 17

    Conclusion 20

    Appendix: List o Undergraduate Fields o Study rom the American Community Survey 21

    Reerences 23

    About the Authors 24

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    How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment v

    In recent years, a variety o orces have converged to generate an intense ocus among policymakers and members o the general public alike on the employment outcomes o college graduates.

    One question probed repeatedly is whether college is still worth it in an economy that has been

    jarred by a deep recession and hindered by a painully slow recovery. It is both understandable

    and appropriate that this question is being raised, and it is important that policy makers and

    members o the general public have as ull a picture as possible o the relevant evidence in order to

    answer it. Te Association o American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National

    Center or Higher Education Management Systems are grateul to the National Endowment or

    the Humanities, the Spencer Foundation, and the eagle Foundation or the unding support that

    makes it possible to provide this analysis o data on the economic returns o earning a college degree.

    Te Liberal Arts and Career Opportunity

    A second question being raised with new urgency is whether specific college majorsare a good

    investment or individuals seeking long-term career success and or policy makers seeking to

    shepherd scarce resources as wisely as possible. In this context, majors in the humanities and

    social sciencesthe so-called liberal artshave become targets or special scrutiny and potential

    budget cuts. Governors, policy leaders, and legislators at both the ederal and state levels have

    singled out specific humanities and social science fields, identiying them as poor choices or

    undergraduate majors and decrying as wasteul the

    investment o public money in associated academic

    departments. Perhaps reflecting that judgment, andin an effort to reduce spending, some institu-

    tions o higher education have moved recently to

    eliminate departments in humanities and social

    science fields such as philosophy, history, sociology, and oreign languages.

    In How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment: A Report on Earnings and Long-erm

    Career Paths, Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly address the concerns about whether college is still

    worth it and whether liberal arts majors provide a solid oundation or long-term employment and

    career success. Responding directly to the recent assaults on the humanities and social sciences, this

    report compares earnings trajectories and career pathways or liberal arts majors with the earnings

    trajectories and career pathways or those majoring in science and mathematics, engineering, andproessional or preproessional fields such as business or education. Readers who value the liberal

    arts will, we believe, find the results reassuring.

    Tere is a much larger casebeyond the purely vocational or economic caseto be made or

    study in the humanities and social sciences, o course. Tese fields build the capacity to understand

    our collective histories, ideals, aspirations, and social systems. Tey are indispensable to the vitality

    Foreword

    Majors in the humanities and social sciences

    the so-called liberal artshave become targetsor special scrutiny and potential budget cuts

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    vi Association o American Colleges and Universities

    o our democracy and to the uture o global understanding, engagement, and community. TeAmerican Academys Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences makes that larger case

    succinctly and persuasively in its recent report, Te Heart o the Matter(2013). AAC&U, too, has

    ocused on the learning students need both or democracy and or global community, publishing

    reports such as Ashley FinleysMaking Progress? What We Know about the Achievement o Liberal

    Education Outcomes(2012), the National ask Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engage-

    mentsA Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracys Future(2012), and the National

    Leadership Council or Liberal Education and Americas Promises College Learning or the New

    Global Century (2007). Tese reports oreground the centrality o the humanities and social sciences

    to societal vitality and also provide extensive evidence to show that ar too many graduates leave

    college knowing much less about democracy and global cultures than they need to know.Here, however, Humphreys and Kelly ocus more narrowly on the economic concerns and

    debates o our time. Tey seek to enlarge the debate about earnings, which requently ocuses too

    selectively on salaries achieved in the first ew years out o collegeinormation based on incomplete

    data and that is, thereore, requently misleading.

    Using data rom a statistically significant weighted sample o more than three million respondents

    to the US Census Bureaus American Community Survey, How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare

    in Employmentprovides evidence that, in strictly economic terms, college is, indeed, still a reliable

    pathway to a solid income and to career progression. Even in todays difficult economic environment,

    most college graduates are employed and are earning significantly higher salaries than those who

    completed high school only.Te findings presented in this report speak directly to alarmist concerns that graduates who

    majored in humanities or social science fields are unemployed and unemployable. Tose concerns

    are unounded and should be put to rest.

    Te report also shows the extent to which degree holders in the humanities and social sciences

    are flocking to a amily o social services and education proessions that may pay less well than

    some other fields (e.g., engineering or business management), but that are necessary to the health

    o our communities and to the quality o our educational systems. In a public statement issued in

    November 2013 in response to President Obamas proposed college ratings system, AAC&Uraised

    concerns about schemes designed to rate institutions by graduates median salary levels, pointing

    out that, i enacted, they would have the effect o rewarding institutions with many engineeringand technology graduates and punishing institutions whose graduates pursue jobs in public

    service, teaching, and social servicesfields our society has chosen to compensate less well.

    Tis report helps us see which fields would be lef depletedat high cost to our communities

    were the United States, in act, to deund humanities and social science departments and turn

    away rom liberal arts studies at the college level.

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    How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment vii

    We do students a significant disservice i we conveythe message that selecting the right major is the

    primary key to career opportunity and success

    It akes More Tan a MajorFinally, consistent with its ocus on wages, employability, and career trajectories, the report also

    includes recent findings about employers views on the kinds o learning that make a graduate

    employable and promotable. Employers themselves are reminding hig