Who says liberal arts majors can't make a good living?

Grinnell is a very small liberal arts college in Iowa with a very big endowment: $1.4 billion.

A new study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities says liberal arts majors eventually close the earnings gap with workers who chose a “professional” major like accounting. Who knew? Given all the focus and support for STEM education, do the liberal arts need a campaign to fill prospective students and parents in on the facts? 

"You are destined to a life of waiting tables." That’s the kind of stereotype the Council of Independent Colleges is trying to fight about the liberal arts -- with its Twitter username Libby and Art. (Get it?) 

Georgia Nugent, president emeritus of Kenyon College and senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges, says the Twitter account was created as a part of a public information campaign.

“We really felt that we needed to speak out. Because so much, what I call 'dis-information' is being circulated to the public,” she said. "Like philosophy and poetry majors you will never earn as much as someone who studies accounting, or nursing." 

Michael Zimmerman, provost at Evergreen State College and chair of the Washington Consortium for Liberal Arts, says the relationship between the liberal arts and STEM is often misunderstood. 

“STEM disciplines are in fact a part of the liberal arts -- they are not apart from the liberal arts. The liberal arts are not liberal, and liberal meaning broad and covering the breadth of human knowledge, if we exclude STEM from them,” he says. 

Debra Humphries, vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and a co-author of the study, notes that at their peak earnings ages, liberal arts majors bring home larger paychecks than professional majors.

So you can major in engineering, but if you also have the breadth and of knowledge and skill that a liberal arts degree provides you, going to be an even more valuable engineer.”

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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