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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