Gov. Daugaard recently went to Girls State and gave the young ladies terrible advice.  The governor told them not to bother with liberals arts degrees, such as philosophy, and instead get a technical degree.  This, he said, would give them a better chance at a job.  

What if this is false?  That is the claim of Harvard-based researcher Michael S. Teitelbaum writing in The Atlantic.  Teitelbaum notes that after a number of studies, “No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher.”  The studies indicate that the United States is producing more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) college graduates each year than it creates in STEM jobs.  Matthew LeBar, of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, reports that while 11.4 million STEM degree holders work in non-STEM jobs, there are only 277,000 openings in STEM-specific jobs.  

Teitelbaum finds that scientists and engineers have higher unemployment than doctors, lawyers, dentists and registered nurses.  Indeed, one might be surprised to learn that the unemployment rate among computer scientists is higher than the national average.  

With a gentrifying population, we are often told that health care is a growing field, but, “Surprisingly, some of the largest and most heavily financed scientific fields,” writes Teitelbaum, “such as biomedical research, are among those with the least attractive career prospects.”

Teitelbaum indicates five eras of recent history where STEM fields have seen large employment boosts.  Four of those booms were due to heavy government investment, three of them coming in Cold War efforts directed toward national defense and space exploration.  These are not exactly current needs.  Only one boom, that associated with the “dotcom” boom of the 1990s, was generated primarily by market forces.  

It is worth noting that in the influential study Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roska show that humanities and social science majors learn the most in college.  According to LeBar, the  Educational Testing Service, which runs some of the best known standardized tests in the nation, has data showing, “liberal arts students score significantly higher than any other field in both the verbal and analytical writing sections of the GRE [the entrance exam for most graduate programs], and philosophy students outperform accounting students in the quantitative section.”

Also, as reported by Carolyn Gregoire, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities “humanities and social science majors earn a similar amount as pre-professional majors do over a lifetime.” Gregoeire notes that David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, recently said that “career-specific skills can often be learned on the job -- whereas critical thinking and problem-solving skills are invaluable benefits of a humanities education -- as demonstrated by the many Wall Street executives who studied humanities in college.”

So why do we consistently push our “best and brightest” into STEM subjects and focus financial resources in this direction?  One cannot deny the value of mathematics, for example, which concerns about half of what our brains do.  But an overemphasis on what are deemed more “practical” subjects has distracted us from cultivating the whole human person, and our economy may pay the price.     

Jon D. Schaff is a professor of political science at Northern State University in Aberdeen. His opinions are his own, not those of the university.

Load comments