Over the past several years, I’ve collected stories and advice from well over a hundred duly employed English majors (see “Want a Job with that English Degree?”). Overwhelmingly, they share that their degrees have helped them find meaning as well as money. According to multiple surveys, most employers in the U.S. positively want to hire college graduates with the kinds of skills fostered in English and other liberal arts—with skills in writing and communicating most important of all. But perhaps the most convincing evidence about English majors’ financial prospects comes from recent data on employment and earnings from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That data, analyzed in several reports, overturns some of the most widespread stereotypes about English majors with the following facts.
From Forbes (click on excerpt to go to the full article):
Just to provide some examples, I pulled out information on bachelor’s degrees in art, drama, English, French, history, philosophy, and political science. Overall, this is a group that many would predict is destined to produce underemployed graduates, struggling to pay off their student loans, and perhaps happy to work as Starbucks baristas. However, conventional wisdom is wrong. In reality these degrees all produce expected lifetime earning increments far in excess of the cost of college tuition, even at expensive private colleges.
Here are some of the highlights (with the table below showing more results). The present value of the extra earnings that graduates in humanities majors can expect over their lifetime is $302,400 for drama majors, $444,700 for English majors, $537,800 for history majors, and $658,900 for philosophy majors. If a person goes to a top-level, in-state, public university with no financial aid of any kind, the total cost is likely to run around $80,000 (tuition, books, and living expenses). That means the much maligned humanities majors are still getting an A in economics because the returns on their investments are quite high (in the 300 to 700 percent range).
From The Chronicle of Higher Education, “To Save the Humanities, Change the Narrative”: The article discusses the continuing assault of articles in the media claiming the humanities are in crisis, even though the data suggests something quite different (click on the excerpt below to go to the whole article).
Interestingly, although programs and tenure-track lines may in fact be under stress, actual data do not support the overall crisis narrative. Unemployment rates and salaries in the humanities are near the median for all majors, and salaries for graduates in philosophy, English, and history are higher than the median. Following a drop in total major numbers in the 1970s, humanities degrees have remained constant. However, these data seem to have little effect on the humanities’ detractors, and the narrative that they weave about the demise and irrelevance of the humanities can seem impervious to empirical reality. Unfortunately, false crisis narratives have real effects.
The most recent (in 2013, when this article was originally posted) reliable statistics suggest that a major in the Humanities is as competitive as most other fields in the job market. As reported in The Atlantic (click on the excerpt to go the full article):
That’s according to the most recent survey of the college graduate labor market by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. As of 2010-2011, the most recent year with available data, recent humanities and liberal arts majors had 9 percent unemployment. That’s right about on par with students in computer and math fields (9.1 percent), psychology and social work (8.8 percent), and the social sciences (10.3 percent). And it’s just a bit above the average across all majors of 7.9 percent.
Remember that 2010-2011 was still in the midst of the Great Recession, so the unemployment rate is still higher than anyone would like, but 9 percent unemployment is far different from much of how the media reports on the job market for humanities majors (which often seem to infer that unemployment is English is more like 91 percent than 9 percent). The media often exaggerates slight differences. It is true, according to this survey, that liberal arts majors do worse than the average of all majors, so that the a liberal arts major as a 91 percent chance of being employed—as compared to the 92.1 percent chance that is the statistical average of all majors. However, the difference between the employment of liberal arts majors compared to all majors is slight.
From Huffington Post (click on the excerpt to go to the full article):
People with bachelor’s degrees make around $300,000 more over their lifetimes than those with just a high school education, according to a new analysis by Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s more than triple the value of the degree in 1980, when college grads earned about $80,000 more than those with just high school degrees, the researchers found.
A new chart from the Pew Research Center shows where various college majors end up working. Follow the link to the chart. When you get to the chart, click on the “Non-Stem Majors” category at the top of the chart. Hover over the “Literature and Languages” major on the left, and the interactive chart will show the many places English majors find jobs. Please note how varied and spread across the chart the jobs are, everything from STEM positions to Education to Management to Law.
“Prestigious Colleges Won’t Make You Happier in Life Or Work” according to Gallup Poll. Click on the excerpts below to go to the full article:
There’s plenty of anxiety in the U.S. over getting into a top college. But a suggests that, later in life, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think. In fact, when you ask college graduates whether they’re “engaged” with their work or “thriving” in all aspects of their lives, their responses don’t vary one bit whether they went to a prestigious college or not.
The graduate survey released Tuesday suggests the factors that should be guiding college decisions are not selectivity or prestige, but cost of attendance, great teaching and deep learning, in that order.
That’s because graduates who said they had a “mentor who encouraged my hopes and dreams,” “professors who cared about me” and at least one prof who “made me excited about learning” are three times more likely to be thriving and twice as likely to be engaged at work. In a similar vein, grads who did long-term projects and internships and were heavily into extracurriculars are twice as likely to be engaged in their careers today.
College debt also has a big impact, on the negative side. Only 2 percent of those with $20,000 to $40,000 in undergraduate loans reported they were “thriving.” That’s pretty troubling, since for the 7 in 10 students who borrow.
In the meantime, the take-home message for students is clear, says Brandon Busteed, who leads Gallup’s education work: “If you can go to Podunk U debt free vs. Harvard for $100,000, go to Podunk. And concentrate on what you do when you get there.”
Past Events (Jan 2014)
UMF Answers the Question “Why English?” with Three-Day Farmington Forum Series, Jan 29-31
Press Release (UMF Media Relations)
FARMINGTON, ME (January 22, 2014)—In continuing tribute to the University of Maine at Farmington’s distinguished academic life over 150 years, the University proudly presents “Why English?” a three-day celebration of English at UMF.
The third academic discipline in the 2013-14 Farmington Forum Series, “Why English?” explores, through a host of engaging events, how studying literature enriches peoples’ lives. Events take place from Wed., Jan. 29, through Fri., Jan. 31, and are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.
Featured is Sir Christopher Ricks, a British literary critic and scholar, who will present the keynote address, entitled “More Than One Waste Land.” Ricks is Warren Professor of the Humanities and co-director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University. Previously, he was professor of English at the University of Bristol and at Cambridge. He was the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford from 2004-2009. A member of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement.
In addition, notable writers Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes will offer a “Literature for a Living” workshop and readings from their works. Waldman’s recent book, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” debuted this past summer to exceptional reviews. It has been called one of 2013’s best books by The New Yorker, The National Post, Slate and many others. It was named a New York Times Editor’s Choice and a Notable Book by the Washington Post. Waldman’s writings have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal and other publications.
Hughes tells Brooklyn’s story through the eyes of its greatest storytellers with his 2011 book, “Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life.” A Fort Greene-based critic and journalist, he has written articles about literature for such publications as The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, n + 1 and the London Review of Books.
Complete schedule of events in the “Why English” series:
Wednesday, Jan. 29
Faculty Roundtable on T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
11:45 a.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center
Reading Methodologies: Approaches to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
This panel, which will include papers by students and faculty, will explore a range of methodological approaches to Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Daniel P. Gunn, UMF interim provost and vice president for academic affairs will respond.
2:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center
A Collaborative Performance of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
7:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center
Thursday, Jan. 30
Literature for a Living workshop
Interactive workshop with notable writers Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes
2:25 p.m., , The Landing, UMF Olsen Student Center
Reading by Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes
7:30 p.m., The Landing, UMF Olsen Student Center
Friday, Jan. 31
Keynote Address “More Than One Waste Land” with Sir Christopher Ricks—British literary critic and scholar
11:45 a.m., Lincoln Auditorium, UMF Roberts Learning Center
“What Can You Do with an English Major?”
UMF alumni in fields such as broadcasting, education, law and graphic design discuss how they navigated the transition from UMF to their current professional lives.
2:20 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center
“Pursuing an Academic Career in English”
UMF alumni currently in Ph.D. programs in English describe their experience.
3:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center
English Alumni Reception
5-7 p.m., UMF President’s House. Open to UMF alumni.
Throughout the year, UMF’s Farmington Forum Series will feature a host of special events in the six key academic disciplines of education, psychology, English, biology, mathematics and history. Events will include in-depth lectures by visiting scholars, film and research presentations, art exhibits, panel discussions and alumni receptions.
The “Why English?” Farmington Forum Series is sponsored by the UMF Department of English.
For additional details, please visit the calendar of events on the UMF 150th Anniversary website at http://150.umf.maine.edu/.
UMF’s Sesquicentennial Celebration is supported in part by the generous donations of area businesses and organizations including Franklin Savings Bank, at the Doctorate Level; Sunday River, at the Master’s Level; and Hight Chevrolet Buick GMC, Kyes Insurance, Shiretown Insurance Agency, University Credit Union and Unity Foundation at the Bachelor’s Level.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education (click on the excerpts to go to the full article):
Skepticism over the value of a college degree, especially one in the liberal arts, is common these days. Rising college prices, increasing levels of student debt, and a still weak job market all heighten doubts. Return on investment has become a popular research question, and a higher-education association released on Wednesday a report arguing that a liberal-arts major is a worthwhile choice.
While humanities and social-science majors started out near the bottom of all college graduates in terms of salary, the report says, older people who majored in those fields—many of whom also held graduate degrees—outearned their peers who’d picked professional and pre-professional majors.
Right out of college, graduates in humanities and social science made, on average, $26,271 in 2010 and 2011, a bit more than those in science and mathematics but less than those in engineering and in professional and pre-professional fields, according to the report. But at their peak earning ages, 56 to 60, humanities and social-science majors earned $66,185, putting them some $2,000 ahead of professional and pre-professional majors in the same age bracket.
One big reason that older humanities and social-science majors outearn professional majors is that about 40 percent of people in the former group also hold a graduate degree. In fact, the report says, earning a graduate degree on top of a humanities or social-science undergraduate major corresponds with a median annual earnings rise of $19,550. Excluding the graduate-degree holders, humanities and social-science majors earned less than professional and pre-professional majors.
Daniel R. Schwarz’s Huffington Post blog post on what to do with an English major offers a number of practical suggestions (just click on the excerpt to get to the full article) and comments from his former students:
Some months ago I was giving a talk to an audience of over 100 at the midtown New York Public Library on my book Endtimes? Crisis and Turmoil at the New York Times. During the post talk question period, someone who wandered in a few minutes before and was standing on the side–and apparently knew I was an English professor–asked somewhat aggressively, “And what do your students do?” Since I knew fifteen or so of my former undergraduate students were in the audience, my response was: “Let’s ask them.” And as I went around the room, they responded: “I graduated from Harvard Law school and now work for the city of New York”; ” I am at MOMA working on foundation relations after doing an M. A. in Museum Studies at NYU”; “I work at Christie’s as a Junior specialist in European Furniture, porcelain, and decorative arts, after completing a Magister Literarum degree–accredited through the University of Glasgow– from Christie’s Education”; “I am working in hospital administration”; “I work in the financial industry”; “I am preparing to take the law boards in a few months and am working as a paralegal”; “I am an editor in a major publishing house”; “I am a professor of English at a branch of CUNY”; ‘I am in medical school in New York,” and so on.