Liberal Arts Grads Find Long-Term Success, Report Finds

A liberal arts degree continues to offer “a solid foundation” for long-term success, with graduates’ earnings eventually outpacing those of their peers with a professional degree, according to a recent report.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) also found that the jobless rate for recent liberal arts grads is low and declines as workers approach the “peak earnings” ages of 56 to 60.

Majoring in the arts, social sciences or humanities – collectively known as the liberal arts – “can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers,” AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider said in a statement.

The January 2014 report, How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010-2011 American Community Survey, which included career and education information for about 3 million people ages 21 to 65. The authors compared liberal arts majors against students who majored in pre-professional and professional fields such as education and business, as well as those who graduated with degrees in science, mathematics and engineering.

Among the report’s major findings:

  • Liberal arts and sciences graduates earned an average of $2,000 more annually during their peak earnings years than individuals with a professional or pre-professional degree ($66,185 vs. $64,149).
  • Liberal arts grads account for 50% of social services professionals compared with 26% of workers across all professions. Although social services careers may pay less than jobs in fields such as engineering, they “are necessary to the health of our communities.”
  • Of the approximately 9.6 million liberal arts grads nationwide, roughly 40% also have an advanced degree, which can boost annual earnings by an average of nearly $20,000.
  • The most common professions of liberal arts graduates include chief executive, marketing manager, lawyer, education administrator, counselor and accountant.

The AAC&U, which released the report in conjunction with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, also noted that 80% of employers believe it’s important that all college students attain comprehensive knowledge in liberal arts and sciences.

The report was produced in response to a nagging perception that liberal arts grads are disproportionately out of work or underemployed.

“That’s a myth out there – that somehow if you major in humanities, you’re doomed to be unemployed for the rest of life,” co-author Debra Humphreys, the AAC&U’s vice president for policy and public engagement, told Inside Higher Ed. “This suggests otherwise.”

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