MYTHBUSTER: Liberal Arts Graduates Will Never Pay Off Student Debt
It’s a familiar refrain: “Your Arts degree is a waste of time.”, “Who’s going to hire a Philosophy major?”, “Why would you throw away four years of your life in the Humanities?”, and, most relevant to us, “How are you going to pay off your student loans with a useless degree?!”
They’re words I, myself, heard endlessly throughout the years as I earned my two Bachelor degrees in Rhetoric and Communications, and then my Masters in Performing Arts. The most tragic thing about hearing such admonitions was the fact that they were more likely to come out of the mouths of family members or even friends expressing genuine, if misinformed, concern, so they couldn’t be easily dismissed. Truth be told, though, this idea of the perpetually-unemployed Arts major is not only untrue today, but one would be hard pressed to argue that it was ever true. It is, and most likely always has been, a myth.
But let’s look at those factors that could influence an Arts and Humanities graduate’s potential to repay their student loans. If we were to look strictly at average income, then the argument for choosing a Science or Engineering degree starts to carry a lot more weight. Multiple studies have shown that the average income of a graduate from one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors is notably higher than that of a given Arts or Humanities major. There’s no denying the earning potential of a STEM degree, particularly if the student goes on to post-graduate study.
However, with reported incomes averaging in the $60,000 range for Humanities and Social Science majors, it isn’t as though these graduates are universally flirting with the poverty line. Indeed, with the current era of heavily audience and consumer-focused tech companies such as Facebook, Uber, and even Google and Apple, the demand for workers skilled in communication is huge and growing every day. A recent Forbes article details this trend, noting that “The more that audacious coders dream of changing the world, the more they need to fill their companies with social alchemists who can connect with customers–and make progress seem pleasant.”
More than ever, new and advanced technologies are being developed with the purpose of reaching and engaging individuals. To this end, those companies developing these new technological channels need employees capable of delivering their messages clearly and convincingly. Writing skills, interpersonal skills, and knowledge of history and the workings of the human mind are being inextricably tied to the new technologies focused on social engagement and community building. These are skills that are developed and honed in the Arts and Humanities, which is why these graduates are in such growing demand in the tech sector. So, the possibility of employment, indeed lucrative employment, for the humble Arts and Humanities major is bright, and only looks to get brighter.
This is great news for those considering non-STEM majors; everyone would like to know that they’ll be able to work and start paying off their student loans upon graduation. It should also be noted that those graduates who go on to become teachers have outlets available to them to have some or all of their student loans forgiven. We should remember, though, that a critical part of higher education is discovering what drives you, what pursuit inspires you to the point that you might want to make it a career. If this ends up being something outside the technical fields, even if it ends up being something that others would (wrongly) call “a waste of time and money,” one still needs to give it serious consideration and decide on their own how to best use these college years that they will never have again.
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