Are you worried the degree and career you are majoring in isn’t worth the cost or that you won’t be able to get a good paying job? If you are worried, then read on. There is no question the more education and training you get, the more money you will be able to earn.  Understanding this relationship is not complicated.  Nearly every student growing up realizes that to be successful after graduating high school they will need to get some additional training, with most believing attending college to be the most beneficial. I certainly believe that. But, with the major costs of college, students should want to make sure they get the most out of their investment. Currently, a widespread belief is that students should be earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math, known as STEM degrees if they want to get a well-paying job after college graduation.   Earning a liberal arts degree is now being seen as poor investment.   Although it is true that many STEM  graduates will initially make more money than a liberal arts graduate, that doesn’t mean a degree in the liberal arts is a waste of money.  I believe Liberal Arts and STEM are both valuable types of education with different strengths and purposes that are equally needed in our society and personally satisfying to individuals.  On the website STRATECHER, according to Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, “The reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is because we’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. . . .  It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing”.

Steve Jobs and the intersection of technology and the liberal arts

The STEM vs. Liberal Arts debate should not result in one over another; instead it should result in how to take the strengths of each type of education to support the other.  Liberal arts degrees should include some STEM learning in their programs and STEM programs should include liberal arts learning.  According to a study from Nobel laureate Thomas R. Cech,This should not come as a surprise. The humanities are important to the sciences not because they produce more cultured people, but because they produce better scientists. . . . just as mathematics is considered to be a good exercise for the brain even for those who will never use calculus in the future, so the study of great books, history, languages, music, and many other non-science fields is likely to hone a scientist’s ability to perceive and interpret the natural world”.

Survey results indicate that employers value technical skills, as well as creative thinking and communication skills. In the article The Value of Liberal Arts Education in Today’s Global Marketplace, “The STEM disciplines are eminently worthy areas of study. . . . But . . .  the liberal arts are critical to success in every economic sector”.  There seems to be a lot of claims by the government and other organizations that STEM skills are so much more valuable to businesses and finding a good paying job than liberal arts skills.  In a U.S. News and World Report article, Marc McNutt confirms employers are looking for workers who have specific technical skills, but, “at the same time, employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hires”. The big focus from the government to have schools offer more STEM programs and encourage more students to go into STEM careers because that is where the jobs are and what businesses value most is just not true. I believe this advice and argument may be causing many students to be getting confused about their career goals; and becoming more concerned than they should be about the career and degree they want to pursue. Students need accurate information such as, the fact “that a third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees, . . . findings clearly underscore the importance of the liberal arts. Nearly all those surveyed (93 percent) say that ‘demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major’” (Ray).

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 8.15.07 PM
Lib. Arts Graduates and Employment

Although STEM jobs and majors generally make more money right out of college and find work in their career fields faster, liberal arts majors certainly make more money than not going to college at all.  Many liberal arts majors also advance in their careers, particularly if they pursue a master’s degree, and over time earn close to what many STEM graduates earn. ChangHwan Kim, a University of Kansas researcher cites data from a study which “estimates that the lifetime earnings gap between high school and college graduates, including those with a graduate degree, is around $1.13 million for men and $792,000 for women”.  This is clear evidence that getting any college degree is a good investment. I think once a person decides on what career field or degree they want, that is the time they should look at the costs of different colleges because there is a big difference in costs from one college to the next.  For example, a person who wants to have a career that does not pay that much, such as a teacher, should probably consider attending a state university like St. Cloud State rather than a private school like St. John’s which would cost twice as much. The quality of the education will be the same, but the cost will be dramatically different. It certainly makes sense to look at the cost-benefit of certain degrees and colleges, but money and income is only one thing that should be used when choosing your life’s work.

Earning more money is not the only measure of success and happiness for a person.  If you have to spend most of your life working at a job or career, it should be in something you really enjoy, are good at, and are passionate about.  Vince Broady,  a CEO of content marketing platform Thismoment puts it this way,  “If students are inclined towards the humanities, he encourages them to pursue what they love, even when others claim these fields are worthless, . . . This is about you and your specific situation; you need to make sure that what you learn serves you”.  I believe every individual needs to choose what they are interested in and what their personality is suited for, because if they don’t, they will go to work every day unhappy and this will have a negative result in their work and personal life.  As Broady states, “people who are passionate about their work are better poised to succeed. If you don’t personally care about what you are doing, you are not going to be competitive at it”. There are so many factors to career satisfaction; the debate over liberal arts and STEM should not focus only on job demand and income.

Job Satisfaction

In today’s ever-changing world the need for creative problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and effective communicators are still just as valuable as the need for people with mathematical, scientific, and engineering skills. Colleges and University degree programs need to build liberal arts into their STEM programs and liberal arts programs need to include STEM-related education.  This will result in all students benefiting from what liberal arts and STEM have to offer.  The debate related to STEM vs. liberal arts degrees/careers should not be an argument of one over the other.  If our government, businesses, and colleges want to provide students with the most valuable learning experience that is a good investment, then they should all be supporting efforts to provide the best STEM and liberal arts programs and look at ways of blending them together whenever possible. My advice, “Find a career field and degree program that you will be excited about.”  Oh yeah, even more important, how about a debate about bringing the costs of all college education down, then we wouldn’t have to have cost be a factor in determining if getting smarter and having a better life is worth it.