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Rediscovering the Value of Liberal Arts

As the product of a liberal arts education and the mother of a college senior studying political science and history, I get a little defensive about the singular focus on STEM and the perceived lack of value in more generalized studies.

In this economy, demand is high for graduates with specialized talent in science, math and engineering and, undeniably, jobs in those fields top the list for attractive starting salaries. However, as recent reports illustrate, the outlook for college graduates across all fields of study is promising.

According to the Washington Post, for the first time, graduates of four-year colleges comprise a larger share of the workforce than those with just a high school diploma.

Of the 11.6 million jobs that have been created in this post-recession economy, 11.5 million went to prospects with at least some college education with the lions share, 8.4 million, going to workers who held a bachelor’s degree or higher.  However, while liberal arts majors may take up to six months longer to find jobs, workers who hold a college degree experience lower overall rates of unemployment and have higher median salaries than those without.

But liberal arts graduates bring more to the table than just their degrees.

In a survey of executives conducted by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, 93 percent said that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems—soft skills in which most liberal arts majors excel—are more important than any particular degree. In fact, 74 percent would recommend a liberal arts degree to their own children or college-bound student.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that CEOs with liberal arts backgrounds lead many of the largest corporations in the U.S., including Starbucks, YouTube, Chipotle, Whole Foods and HBO.

The reality is that no college degree—STEM or otherwise—comes with a guarantee of a great job, good salary and an executive title. Individual circumstances, talent and ambition, far more than a major or a degree or lack thereof, define the future.

As more companies gain a newfound appreciation for liberal arts graduates and their skills, it is clear that the best path forward for many students lies beyond STEM.

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