In the first issue of this year’s CLASS Directions, I addressed the topic of how well we are preparing CLASS students for today’s job market. As the costs of college rise, more and more of our potential students and their parents are questioning the value of a college education and demanding to know the return on investment for their tuition dollars. I would like to revisit this issue in light of a recently published study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities entitled “How Liberal Arts and Science Majors Fare in Employment.” Based on an investigation of census data from 2010 and 2011, the study compares the job trajectories of graduates in four categories: arts, social sciences and humanities; engineering; science and math; and professional and pre-professional tracks.
For our purposes, the most important finding is that by the time arts, humanities, and social science majors reach their 40s and 50s, their unemployment rate (3.5%) is not that much different from the unemployment rate of graduates with professional or pre-professional degrees (3.1%). (Graduates in science and engineering have even lower unemployment rates of 1.8% and 2.8% respectively.) When our graduates are in their 20s and 30s, they do endure a higher unemployment rate of 5.2%. Nevertheless, given that economists usually consider a 6% unemployment rate as “full employment,” our young graduates are still doing quite well. Still, we could do better for them, and our biggest challenge is to help our twenty-something graduates get their first job.
As to salaries, arts, humanities, and social science majors do lag slightly behind their peers (except for peers in professional or pre-professional tracks), but their salaries grow along a nice curve over the course of their careers. The 2010-11 data show that, at the height of their careers, the median annual earnings of graduates in the arts, humanities, and social sciences were somewhere around $65,000. (This means that half of those graduates were earning more than $65,000!) It is true that the salaries of graduates in science and engineering outpaced those of our graduates, but one of the reasons for this is that our graduates are highly represented in the educational and social services professions, professions that are vital to the health of our society but which typically pay less. Accordingly, universities like Cleveland State, which are significantly less expensive (and, thus, require less debt) than private institutions, probably provide the best return on investment for students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
What’s more, the report demonstrates that a college degree of any kind pays a substantial return on investment. The data for 2010 suggest that persons with a college degree were, on average, earning twice the annual salaries that high school graduates were. In addition, quoting another study, the report states that the 2012 unemployment rate for four-year college graduates ages 25 to 34 was 7.1 percentage points lower than that for high school graduates in the same age group! These numbers suggest that a college education does indeed pay a substantial return on investment.
What this study suggests, then, is that any attempts to turn away students who are passionate about studies in our areas from degree tracks in the arts, humanities, and social sciences in favor of more “practical” majors are simply misguided. CLASS students will find their places in today’s economy, and, what’s even more important, they have the transferrable skills needed to adapt as the economy changes. But we can help our students succeed even more in two concrete ways. First, we need to encourage more of our students to find paid internships. There is evidence that shows that having had a paid internship is one of the best ways for students not only to learn how their academic skills can be used in the economy but also to make important connections to companies that are hiring. In fact, we will be working with Byron White and Yolanda Burt to establish even better internship opportunities for CLASS students. Second, there is evidence in the AAC&U study that suggests that students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences with graduate degrees earn more in the long run that do students who have only a bachelor’s degree. Thus, if we encourage our best students to continue on for a year or so and earn their M.A., we will be helping them thrive better in tomorrow’s economy.
I would like to close by thanking all those who have been and will be involved in what is now being called “The Big Switch,” the conversion to a 3-credit hour dominant course schedule. Faculty and administrators have already invested a significant number of hours in revising course descriptions and our B.A. curricula. Faculty and staff advisors will now make themselves available for a significant amount of transition advising, so that our current students will make the transition seamlessly into the new curricular model. These additional advising chores will require advisors to be proactive (reaching out to advisees rather than waiting for them to call), to maintain availability, and to accurately record important details both in Starfish and in degree audit. (If your department has not been trained in the Grad Express Degree Audit, please ask your chairperson to schedule a session asap.) Although these tasks will place additional stress on our already busy schedules, the work is critical to the near-term health of our college and, indeed, the university. That’s why I am particularly grateful to all those who have stepped up to make a difference in the lives of our future CLASS alumni.
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