By Sydney Owada /// Staff Writer
As a liberal arts college, Lewis & Clark is faced with the challenge of graduating students that will fulfill the liberal arts requirements yet still manage to attain well-paying jobs. Students seem to be continually asked to choose between pursuing an education that caters to their own academic passions and one that favors the current job market, which is presently being pulled towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
Due to their higher salaries and capacity for immediate job market application, STEM fields are beginning to overshadow liberal arts majors in popularity as well as in the reception of funding. Public colleges in particular feel pressure from the general economy as well as state politicians to increase the production of STEM graduates, and many states have implemented funding incentives for particular high-demand degrees in public education. The result of these bonuses is that colleges are being forced to focus not only on completion rates, but students’ jobs and earnings after graduation.
Although increased funding and publicity is a positive plug for STEM fields, it does not come without consequent damage to other areas of study once treated with equal respect. Humanities has been condemned as a sacrifice, a field pushed to the bottom of the totem pole in order to properly award premiums to studies that conform to the stressed job market modernity has molded. This is not to say that STEM fields are a menace in comparison to humanities — they are in fact vital to the well-roundedness of the student body at a liberal arts college (hence the general education requirements so near and dear to the students of LC). This is a claim that liberal arts have been frequently and unsuitably belittled due to their obscure applications in the workforce and lower salaries.
When one admits in conversation that one is a major in the liberal arts, the common response is something along the lines of, “What can you do (job-wise) with that?” or, “You know that won’t pay very much, right?” The humanities major is then forced to justify these academic preferences in a somewhat clichéd monologue of intellectual passion, not caring about money, and so on. Yet, it becomes difficult to shake the slight twinge of buyers’ regret once money is viewed as going hand in hand with future stability. The stress for success thus fuels the push towards STEM majors, for liberal arts students become victims of doubt as society looks down upon their personal choices and sources of academic enthusiasm.
While society pressures liberal arts students to accept that job security is apparently only found within STEM careers, it ignores the ideals that a liberal arts education can instill within a student that will make one overall suited for the workforce, regardless of major. Most liberal arts colleges trumpet their impact on students’ problem solving, collaborative, and creative skills, all of which prove to be valuable to employers. While STEM fields within liberal arts colleges are a part of this learning process, it is the technical skills within these programs that are rewarded with extra funding diverted from other departments within the college. A student’s area of focus, in many cases, is therefore one of the only differences between STEM Major A and Liberal Arts Major B. Sure, Major A can enter a high-paying technical field, but Major B does not have to be excluded completely from this process either.
Informing students of popular job fields and their attached salaries would be a positive resource overall and is completely different from disadvantaging some majors by redirecting their funds to STEM departments. Students are usually fully aware of the future paths their majors will take within the workforce and should therefore not be penalized for choosing one within the liberal arts. Furthermore, the unequal distribution of funds would leave public schools deficient in humanities sections and therefore private schools would remain the main source of such an education. Thus, due to expenses, a liberal arts education would only be obtained by those able to afford it; this would create a system in which the well-off receive a more well-rounded education in tandem with necessary vocational skills. On the other hand, the more affordable version of schooling that neglects the liberal arts would create workers that are perhaps too specialized and, as a result, deficient in areas such as problem solving and collaboration that are stressed within the liberal arts. In order for such academic pathways to be accepted as well as made available, the stigma of not being a top-earner must be removed in order to fully value what each person contributes to a given job within the market.