The growth of interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects over recent years has been assumed by some to be at the expense of the humanities. This has been fed by the media, which has had no end of fun speculating which college majors are more likely to leave graduates jobless.
A recent study by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, based on census data and polling by Gallup, has made clear this is all stuff and nonsense.
In fact, apart from some salary disparity (though gaps eventually narrow), humanities majors are not just employed in equally high numbers but also enjoy job satisfaction.
The trends are mirrored by recent graduates of Centre College, according to Joy Asher, director of the Center for Career & Professional Development.
“The headline here at Centre,” said Asher, “is that success rates for both STEM and humanities majors are very close, based on data for our recent majors.”
Combined data for the graduating classes of 2015 and 2016 show a 99 percent success rate for STEM majors and 94 percent for humanities majors. Success means a graduate is either employed or pursuing advanced study.
In crunching the numbers, Asher looked at data for Centre’s STEM-related majors in behavioral neuroscience, biology, biochemistry & molecular biology, chemical physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics and psychology.
Likewise, she reviewed data for humanities-related majors in art history, classical studies, dramatic arts, English, French, German Studies, music, philosophy, Spanish and studio art.
In all, Centre offers more than 50 majors, minors, pre-professional and dual-degree programs and graduate partnerships. Students can also design their own major in consultation with an advisor.
Separately, STEM success rates are 98.5 percent (2016) and 99 percent (2015), compared with humanities success rates at 91 percent (2016) and 96 percent (2015). It is worth noting that social science majors do equally well, with a 99 percent success rate for both the 2015 and 2016 classes. The data is based on a 96 percent knowledge rate (compared to the national average of 64 percent).
As Asher explains, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average success rate for all college graduates over the past two years is 81.5 percent (79 percent for graduates in the Southeast), placing Centre’s numbers consistently well above the region and nation.
While the numbers for humanities majors are slightly lower than those for STEM, Asher says the difference is negligible. “Humanities graduates are still securing professional employment and entrance into graduate and professional schools at rates significantly higher than the national average,” she said.
“At Centre, no matter what the major, students gain invaluable experience through internships and undergraduate research. They meet with trained career counselors who help guide them through the process of career and professional development throughout their four years,” Asher added. “These experiences are key to preparing students for success after Centre, regardless of their major.”
As the study suggests, salary should not be the sole measure of success. Job satisfaction, general well-being and quality of life are all important factors, too, and elements the study also captures.
In the end, the study finds evidence “that humanities graduates earn less … [but] have slightly higher levels of employment relative to science and engineering majors.”
Titled “The State of the Humanities 2018: Graduates in the Workforce and Beyond,” the full study by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences is available here.
by Michael Strysick
March 6, 2018