Need for more skilled workers bodes ill for liberal arts grads

As companies strive to cut costs and increase efficiency, jobs that seemed to be safe are now at risk (“The Pandemic Has Accelerated Demands for a More Skilled Work Force,” The New York Times, July 14).  Nevertheless, young people are still told that without a four-year degree they have a bleak future.

I can understand the potential value of a bachelor’s degree in STEM, but I question one in the humanities.  I maintain that the latter is a luxury few can afford.  Let’s not forget that a degree today saddles graduates with loans that are not dischargeable. As a result, whatever wage premium is attached to a degree is substantially reduced.

Some say that college shouldn’t prepare grads for their first job, but instead for the rest of their lives. They are quick to point out that humanities majors trail their peers in terms of salary early on, but the divide tends to narrow or even disappear as careers progress.  There is some truth to that generalization.  But try telling it to recent grads who can’t make enough to pay the rent.

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2 Replies to “Need for more skilled workers bodes ill for liberal arts grads”

  1. Of course, from the individual student’s viewpoint (as opposed to the society-wide viewpoint), there is the problem of many jobs requiring a college degree notwithstanding that the job duties are largely unrelated to whatever the employee studied in college. The individual student who does not get the BS/BA degree is precluded from all those jobs. Not saying that the employers are right — or even rational — in requiring the college degree. But, so long as that is what the employers are doing, this must a be a factor in students’ decisions re going to college.


  2. Labor Lawyer: A college degree today does not mean what it once did. Its primary value is its signaling power. What employers should do is to give all applicants a problem to solve and observe the outcome. It’s the equivalent of an audition in the performing arts. When I graduated from Penn, I was told to sit down and write about a given topic.


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