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Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:11 AM

Liberal Arts Majors Didn't Kill the Economy

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/02/liberal-arts-majors-didnt-kill-the-economy/272940/



Is our college students learning?

Rarely is the question not asked nowadays. Graduates now face a tough labor market and even tougher debt burdens, which has left many struggling to find work that pays enough to pay back what they owe. Today, as my colleague Jordan Weissmann points out, young alums aren't stuck in dead-end jobs much more than usual (despite the scare stories you may have heard). But that's a cold comfort for grads who borrowed a lot to cover the high cost of their degrees.

There are two, well, schools of thought about why freshly-minted grads have had such a tough time recently. You can blame the smarty-pants majors or blame the economy. In other words, students can't get good jobs either because they aren't learning (at least not the right things) in college, or because there aren't enough good jobs, period.

This is far from an academic debate. If recent grads can't find good work because they didn't learn any marketable skills, there's little the government can do to help, besides "nudging" current students to be more practical. And that's exactly what conservative governors in Florida and North Carolina are considering with proposals to charge humanities majors higher tuition than, say, science majors at state schools.

But there's an obvious question. If liberal arts majors "didn't learn much in school," as Jane Shaw put it in the Wall Street Journal, why haven't they always had trouble finding work? Are there just more of them now, or is this lack of learning just a recent phenomenon? Well, as you can see in the chart below, there's no correlation the past decade between the share of grads in the most maligned majors and the unemployment rate for college grads (which has been inverted here). It's hard to see how the nonexistent rise of liberal arts explains the decline of job prospects.


(Note: I compiled data from the National Center for Education Statistics to come up with the percentage of students in "squishy" majors, which includes gender and cultural studies, English and foreign language literature, liberal arts, philosophy, and theater and visual arts. I multiplied the unemployment rate by -1, so employment falls when the line does).

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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply Liberal Arts Majors Didn't Kill the Economy (Original post)
xchrom Feb 2013 OP
riderinthestorm Feb 2013 #1
FarCenter Feb 2013 #2
ThoughtCriminal Feb 2013 #3
Igel Feb 2013 #4
rugger1869 Feb 2013 #5
tblue37 Feb 2013 #8
rugger1869 Feb 2013 #9
tblue37 Feb 2013 #11
WillyT Feb 2013 #6
JCMach1 Feb 2013 #7
Yavin4 Feb 2013 #10

Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:59 AM

1. Nicely done. Great graph! K&R! nt

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 11:07 AM

2. Hank Paulson has a BA in English -- How many of the chief culprits didn't have Liberal Arts degrees?

Conversely, what precentage of the bankers, financier, bureaucrats and politicians responsible for the financial crises have STEM degrees?

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 11:15 AM

3. Nope - those MBAs and Finance majors

were "Nowhere near the place" when Wall Street looted the country.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 02:41 PM

4. It's messier than you make it out to be.

It's not like unemployment is just a function of degrees granted. If there's high demand, you dip into the college graduate pull and will find a way of using that philosophy or fine arts major. It's that or leave the job unfilled.

With high unemployment, that's less of a concern.

We could also talk about how the # of degrees granted per year has increased, but I'm not sure where that would get us.

Because this all misses the point. If you have a lot of nice STEM graduates it's easier to build a high-tech industry without resorting to visas. Yes, there is that option. Yes, that also imposes a drag on filling jobs. You don't just advertise this week, find nobody suited, and so the next morning find a foreign applicant, get his paperwork processed that afternoon, and have him arrive on a red-eye the next morning ready to be put through HR's paperwork.

And since most new jobs are start-ups, you don't have 5 H1-Bs show up to start a company. You need a lot of bright people that already know STEM.

(Notice that a lot of MBAs start off as unemployed "others.")

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 04:04 PM

5. Ahem...

Is our college students learning?

Apparently they're not learning subject-verb agreement.

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Response to rugger1869 (Reply #5)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 04:22 PM

8. NOT an error! That was a deliberate allusion to the question asked by

George W. Bush, his exact phrasing was ". . . is our students learning?"

A lot of people try to correct the spelling of posters who reference "morans," too, without realizing that it alludes to an "internet famous" Teabagger and his sign, which reads, "Get a brain, Morans!".

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Response to tblue37 (Reply #8)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 05:21 PM

9. I would buy that...

If it were in quotes or attributed. It is neither, therefore one could assume that the author made an error. You are, however, making an unsubstantiated claim without proof.

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Response to rugger1869 (Reply #9)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 08:42 PM

11. I'd say it is obviously intended as an allusion to W's error.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 04:12 PM

6. K & R !!!


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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 04:20 PM

7. Corporations want more corporate welfare... they want the government to pay for training

they used to have to give and pay for... for their employees.

They also want to drive down wages further in the tech sector.

Just turn the clock back... Remember computer programming? What happened to that after it was pushed by unis and politicians in the 80's and into the 90's. I almost went into that field.

Thank the diety I got one of the squishy majors which has paid my way ever since.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 05:37 PM

10. I would extend high school to another two years

The additional two years would be directed to either vocational study or college prep.

Vocational study would include the traditional fields, electrician, plumbing, auto maintenance, and it would include performing arts, graphic arts, information technology, accounting, advertising, sales, media production, etc. After graduation from one of these schools, students would work as an apprentice for two years in their field to get experience.

Those who want to go onto college can enroll in college prep schools. There, students would take classes that they can transfer for credit at a university. IOW, they would get their 101 classes out of the way, and use college to focus on their majors.

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