Do Employers Really Want to Hire “Liberal Arts” Types?

Among students who graduated in 2012, those who had majored in accounting, engineering, computer science, economics and business administration were the most likely to receive job offers, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE). So why are employers saying they are looking for new hires who are “broadly” educated, rather than recent graduates whose education has been overly specialized?

Can You Be  a Humanities Major and Still Get Hired?

In a recent survey of employers and college presidents, 318 employers said they want to hire individuals who have “both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge” — who have some knowledge about the profession they wish to enter, but who also have a liberal arts education, which emphasizes the study of a broad range of subjects to develop skills in thinking and communicating, without a specific profession in mind.

That’s an opposite position to what many have said about those who major in the humanities. A May 2012 article in Forbes pointed out that those who had majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities are the most under-employed, working at the mall or in jobs that require a high school degree, if that. Why not cut down on the size of humanities departments, to lower their costs and no longer to pay “teachers and administrators in those departments and slash the related overhead”?

Students who waste years and dollars reading poetry could just go straight from high school to work as receptionists and, says the Forbes article. They ”would be better off because they would not incur the crushing debt loads that they would never be able to pay back.”

Employers Say They Want Broadly-Trained New Hires

It is the case that, at  schools around the U.S., you can major in something as specific as “health information management” and “professional golf management;” a mega-university like Ohio State offers “over 175 specializations and majors.” But employers are saying that what they really want is employees with solid basic skills, according to this most recent survey, which was administered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACP).

In view of the survey’s results, 160 employers and 107 college presidents have signed a “compact” in which they’ve agreed to promote the idea of a “21st-century liberal arts education” that will include “broad and adaptive learning, personal and social responsibility, and intellectual skills.” In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marcy L. Reed, president for Massachusetts of a gas and electric utility called National Grid, notes why such broad-based learning has its advantages in the job market.

According to Reed,  her own liberal arts education was how she “learned to think.” Her support for such an education is also based in an understanding of what society today is like. Texting and email are the main ways that many of us now communicate; Reed points out that new hires ”must learn somewhere the skills that will help them make a sales pitch or a presentation to a board,” from formulating an argument to expressing oneself succinctly and in a way that stands out from the crowd to writing well. Though every college student in the U.S. takes composition courses and writes essays, and though every U.S. institution of higher learning has developed programs to improve students’ writing, graduates still struggle to communicate, orally and in writing.

As often noted, more than a few CEOs were English or humanities majors. In disquieting news for many colleges and universities, the survey indeed found that “a considerable share of employers don’t think colleges are doing a very good job of preparing graduates for work.” Majoring in “health information management and systems” prepares you to handle medical records, but what are you going to do if a better system is developed by somehow who, thanks to their liberal arts education, can think outside the data system?


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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

it IS super important to be well rounded.. super specified education is a bad thing, not a good thing. It can be a great thing if coupled with a more general education

Nick Andrews
Nico Smart3 years ago

Clinton's over-regulation of the home lending sector caused the housing crash directly, not the overall bank issues, which are a cumulative effect of changes made ever since we went off the gold standard by just about every President since.

As for invading Iraq, there is nothing illegal about it. If you are one of those fools who still claim Hussein had no WMD (even though we sold some to him and he used some on the Kurds, therefore obviously having some), then you could go back to Clinton's gutting the intel agencies and our networks and causing us to rely on a single source of information to get current (at the time) conditions on the ground in Iraq. Now ole goofy W screwed up royally in Iraq. We should have gone in, destroyed Hussein's army and government, then left. Staying was the mistake. Same thing in Afghanistan. No one has successfully held the Khyber Pass region. Sure we helped the locals at the time, but the Russians learned this after many long bloody years. Why the hell did we follow them? And let's not forget about Clinton's direct acts of treason in giving ballistic missile tech to China.

Jonathan Schaper
Jonathan Schaper3 years ago

Oh, and I'm interested to hear how Clinton maneuvered the US into illegally invading Iraq under something called the Bush Doctrine, on trumped up evidence presented by the Bush administration.

Jonathan Schaper
Jonathan Schaper3 years ago

Wow, Nick A. I'm the last person to write a hagiography about Clinton, but most people would lack the utter audacity it takes to blame the banking collapse upon overregulation instead of the major deregulations that took place post Clinton. That leaves the mystery of why all of the countries that most successfully weathered the Global Financial Crisis, such as Australia, were those that maintained stronger banking regulations.

Nick Andrews
Nico Smart3 years ago

Sorry John, but you are wrong. Clinton screwed us. By over-regulating the banks and forcing them to make unworkable loans to those who could not afford them, prices climbed to ridiculous levels, right up to the crash. His slashing of budget for the military and intelligence agencies led directly to higher crime and is responsible for every act of terrorism perpetrated against us since as well as the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing I said was wrong. As a linguist, you are a specialist. But most so-called liberal arts majors are not.

John Ditchman
John Ditchman3 years ago

Nick A - Get a clue!!! Under Clinton, the US economy was expanding and government operating at a surplus! Dubyah got elected and sent the economy into a tail spin by giving the surplus to the 1%. Economy issues may be off topic, but you are so wrong. As for a liberal education, hiring people say they want "well rounded people" but only if they have a narrow focus. As a would-be linguist, I know that for a fact.

Nick Andrews
Nico Smart3 years ago

Scoot, you are tight about that. Until the Clinton recession is a thing of the past, job prospects for many are not going to be very good. In spite of what the media keep saying, we have not even started to recover. Housing prices keep dropping, and manufacturing is at a standstill.

Scott haakon
Scott haakon3 years ago

The fact is we are overpopulated. It is just that simple. When the great recession hit so many jobs were lost along with the buying of companies that the good jobs were shrinking fast and will not return. There will be a long time until this settles down.

James M.
James M3 years ago

Liberal arts degrees used to be a gateway to many jobs. Then came the Cultural Revolution of 1968, its aftermath in the seventies, and Reaganism. Today many jobs that used to prefer liberal arts students demand science students who, alas, cannot find work in science. Liberal arts majors often are too liberal for many conservatives. The government is another great example. At a Foreign Language Week conference in 1984 in Philadelphia, a State Department official said that language must cease to become a liberal art, as it had been. Humanities majors would have questioned Reaganist foreign policy. So today we subject ourselves to the security problems of using foreign nationals as linguists while most nations train their own nationals for such work. The problem is not one of skill, but of attitude. j&J

Nick Andrews
Nico Smart3 years ago

Charli, I might do the same thing, in between hunting and photo trips around the world and traveling.