The “Value” of a Liberal Arts Degree

By Sarah Vukalovic

As the academic year moves steadily towards graduation season, many students are beginning the job search. While students receiving degrees in technical or career-specific fields tend to have linear paths, those graduating with liberal arts degrees are often forced to navigate unpredictable routes. This begs the question:  what is the value of a liberal arts education in the professional world today?

Unfortunately, liberal arts degrees have gained a poor reputation. A Georgetown study revealed that the average salary for recent graduates holding degrees in liberal arts and humanities was $31,000, compared to the $55,000 earned by engineering grads. Yet, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University Carol Haber offers a more comprehensive view of the subject in an article for Fox Business:  

“Two misconceptions fuel this discussion: One, that the ‘worth’ can be measured by dollars alone rather than through higher level skills gained through the degree, and two, that the value can be measured through the individual’s first job, rather than through the life course,” she maintained.

Students with liberal arts degrees have garnered valuable professional skills that allow them to advance quickly within a company, despite entering the workforce at a lower salary. Over time, liberal arts students often outpace their more technically minded counterparts.

Additionally, many employers specifically seek liberal arts graduates to contribute to their companies. In a 2012 survey conducted by IBM, a number of CEOs listed top qualities in desirable candidates for employment. The most sought-after candidates displayed “fearless creativity,” in addition to team skills, ability to connect with consumers, and commitment to the organization’s values and ethics. Recognizing the inquisitive and independent nature of recent grads steeped in the liberal arts tradition, an increasing number of CEOs are shifting their views in favor of liberal arts job candidates.

Though a liberal arts education is undoubtedly valuable in and of itself, those students who choose to pursue studies that are not career-specific have the added advantage of versatility and adaptability in the workplace.  

Millennials are estimated to pursue as many as seven different careers throughout their working years, and significantly more jobs in each. Interpersonal skills, written and verbal communication, and innovative thinking prepare students for a much wider variety of career choices than those who have been trained in a more focused field.  

Terri Provencal, founder and editor-in-chief of Patron Magazine, said, “I believe that liberal arts students have more flexibility when it comes to career paths and determining their own future.”

Ultimately, while liberal arts students enter the work force receiving lower compensation, the skillsets they have developed throughout their academic careers allow for a greater degree of freedom and likelihood of advancement later in their careers. 

Sarah Vukalovic is a senior at the University of Dallas majoring in Philosophy. The University of Dallas is home to the Eta of Texas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.