Despite what your parents and grandparents may tell you, majoring in History won't end any chances of getting a job. Though fewer and fewer students are majoring in the humanities at elite-level colleges because of job concerns, a new study suggests that non-science majors don't need to be so worried about their employment.
The New York Times today documents the growing gap between humanities professors and a declining core of students in their majors; at Stanford, for example, 45 percent of the faculty teaches humanities for just 15 percent of the students. We've noted the decline of the humanities before, which has only been exacerbated by a struggling economy that has sent worried students into skill-focused STEM majors, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. "College is increasingly being defined narrowly as job preparation, not as something designed to educate the whole person," Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, told the Times.
But job preparation is indeed what humanities studies are doing, according to a new British study highlighted by Pacific Standard. Three and a half years after graduation, 84.2 percent of social science majors and 78.7 percent of arts and humanities majors are employed, compared to 77.8 percent of STEM majors. That's according to the Campaign for Social Science, which admittedly has some bias in presenting research that promotes its own cause. For one, STEM majors are enrolled in graduate school more often than non-STEM majors, an important caveat 3.5 years out of school.
Even so, a study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce looking at college grads 25-years-and-older shows similar findings along its extremes. The study found some of the lowest unemployment rates for majors in education, physical fitness, parks & recreation, and finance. Even drama and theater arts notches a low 6.4 percent unemployment. Meanwhile, the major with the highest unemployment? Informational systems, with just under 15 percent.
The point isn't to say that, on the whole, majoring in social science and humanities will provide a better or more lucrative job than majoring in STEM-focuses will. But the idea that every STEM major is great and any humanities are hopeless is a wrong one. "We have failed to make the case that those skills" — that is to say, the skills of navigating a conflicting debate, philosophy, and values — "are as essential to engineers and scientists and businessmen as to philosophy professors," Bard College president Leon Botstein told the Times.
And anyway, the problems with higher education won't be solved by changing your choice of major. It will come when we stop talking about our Ivy League schools.