Professors believe humanities degrees teach useful career skills

Jonathan Janasik, News Editor
March 7, 2013

English, history and philosophy majors are commonly asked what kind of job they wish to have after graduation because of their degrees in the humanities.

“There’s no doubt that there is that there is pressure on higher education to look at a direct linkage between what you study in your bachelor’s degree and what you do for your career,” SRU president Cheryl J. Norton said. “I suspect that a lot of that has developed as a result of the cost of education. I think we’ve hit that critical point where people are saying, ‘Well, I’ve paid a lot for this and it should pay me back’. We’re definitely a society that has a cost-benefit ratio built in.”

Norton believes that there are some programs that have a direct link to a job, and it can be important for students to decide on these majors quickly in order for them to get a jump start into their career. Examples of these would be education and nursing.

“There is generally a belief within the university that humanities degrees don’t prepare you for particular jobs and thus if your goal is to graduate and find a good job, the humanities might not be the best option,” philosophy department chairperson and professor Dr. Bradley Wilson explained. “There is some truth to that.”

Wilson explained that majoring in one of the humanities is a good choice if you are not sure what kind of job you are looking for. This is because the humanities provide opportunities to learn general skills relating to reading, writing, and problem solving. While these aren’t job specific skills, they can be used in a variety of different settings. According to Wilson, many jobs will train the individual specialized skills to students after they are hired.

One common misconception is that students are locked into only being a student in the sciences or the humanities.

“These are not mutually exclusive programs,” Wilson said. “You can do both. You can get a business degree and a history degree, or a communications degree with a philosophy degree. I would argue very strongly that the business major with the history degree will be much more employable than the businessperson without a history degree. In a way that is the most powerful combination. You have job specific skills and you have evidence that you can use critical thinking and can solve problems.“

Wilson stated that the jobs students may have in five or ten years may not even exist yet, much like how the development of social media has recently affected many occupations. So with that in mind, having a broad skillset may give students and advantage in these new upcoming jobs.

Geology, Geography and Environment associate professor Dr. Jack Livingston stated that he believes that students in the humanities have plenty of opportunities to find jobs after graduation.

“You don’t get a job because you know how to do something,” Livingston said. “You get a job because you can learn how to do something. That, to me, is a much better way to think about it. Demonstrate that you can learn and communicate, and you will get a job.”

With that being said, Livingston explained that although we may assume that students graduating with degrees in the humanities such as English should be good writers, but that is not always true. Students have to prove that they’ve learned these skills.

Often times, employers ask for a specific blanket degree such as biology, for example, when asking for applicants. Livingston believes that if students in the humanities are at least able to prove that they know some of the basic concepts of biology, then they would most likely be qualified for that position. Because SRU requires at least two science courses and one math course, this gives students an opportunity to broaden their skills and interests.  He stated that these liberal arts courses are important to all students because these classes allow students to become more well-rounded individuals.

“The United States has been built on creativity and problem solving,” Livingston said. “We have always been a culture of innovation. The more you pigeonhole people, the less innovative they will be.”

Business professor Dr. John Buttermore explained that students need to learn three main skills in order to be successful. The three skills that students need to develop are communication, problem solving, and collaboration. Buttermore believes that most programs at SRU, including the humanities, teach these important skills.

There are exceptions to this rule for jobs that require high-level skills right out of school, such as accounting and financial management.

Buttermore explained that there is more to being successful in business than just being able to demonstrate those three skills. He compared students to college football players that are preparing for the upcoming NFL draft. These students have well defined goals, and have enough motivation to put in the time to work toward them.  He stated that if students were to approach their schoolwork with the same amount of motivation and drive that football players do in order to prepare for the draft, they would be able to accomplish much more.

“A well-motivated humanities individual can be the next CEO of IBM or General Electric or GM just as easily as some kid coming through the best management school,” Buttermore said. “It comes back to that personal skillset that you have to develop, and combine that with some serous goals and the motivational to achieve those goals.”

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