When the College of Arts and Sciences came together five years ago, one of its founding premises was that having a unified college would enhance our collective ability to articulate and advocate for the continuing importance of a liberal arts education both at Ohio State and in public research institutions more generally. My commitment to that premise is one of the things that excited me about coming to Ohio State, and it continues to guide my priorities both as a leader and for the college.
In the spirit of this ongoing commitment, I submitted a letter to the editor to The Columbus Dispatch, which was printed last Sunday. The immediate context for my letter was the article, Arts and sciences faculty want Ohio State to admit more humanities majors (2/15/16). My broader purpose for writing the letter was to address the ongoing public perception — reflected even in some of the comments on the article — that “You can’t get a job with a degree in … [name of any humanities major].”
This criticism is most certainly ill-founded and is a real disservice to students. A degree in the humanities and great jobs go hand in hand. Several national studies confirm it. Some address the issue of employability, showing that an overwhelming majority (approximately 80 percent) of businesses prefer liberal arts graduates, including those from the humanities. Others refute the idea of supposed low earning potential and show that liberal arts majors, across their lifetimes, consistently earn as much or more than majors with degrees assumed to promise high-earning potential.
I urge you to join me and university leadership in being advocates for the lasting value of liberal arts education. Last week I shared with the chairs and directors an essay by Marilynne Robinson that argues that debates about public higher education have substituted the word “taxpayer” for “citizen.” I find this a useful distinction but also an overly binary one. We are educating citizens, and we are also graduating students who are well equipped to get jobs, advance their careers, and yes, pay taxes. It is in that spirit that I felt compelled to write the letter below.
As Executive Dean of Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences, I want to speak to recent articles regarding enrollments in our humanities majors. Ohio State remains committed to the importance of the humanities and I want to explain why.
First, great jobs and a degree in the liberal arts go hand in hand.
Findings in a recent national analysis bear this out. The report, released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, showed that during peak earnings years, liberal arts majors actually earn about $2,000 more per year than professional/pre-professional majors and have low unemployment rates.
It is an issue of national significance that, according to Harvard University’s Humanities Project, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the humanities decreased 50 percent nationwide between 1996 and 2010. The decline in both majors and course work is a disservice to our students, since studies show an overwhelming percentage of employers prefer applicants with a liberal arts education.
Many factors contribute to this decrease, including the growth of new majors in science, technology and math (Ohio State’s neuroscience and data analytics majors are examples) and more students entering with college credits for general education courses, often in the humanities — a trend that makes college more affordable for all.
In the arts and sciences, we stimulate the potential of our students to dream, innovate and invent what does not yet exist — new ideas, jobs and technologies. Our majors acquire the critical, creative and analytical skills enabling them to adjust and contribute to ever-changing work environments throughout their lives.
As the Dispatch noted in a recent editorial, the looming shortage of specialists in the skilled trades represents an opportunity for many young people to pursue vocational training toward fulfilling, well-paid careers. College is not for everyone.
That said, the university and college are committed to maintaining the strength of the liberal arts so that students who choose an Ohio State education receive the breadth and depth of experience that they expect and deserve.
To address our current challenges, a university-funded initiative for the Humanities and the Arts was launched to deepen student engagement, build community and collaboration among faculty, and increase the university’s national distinction in humanities and arts disciplines.
As part of our land-grant mission, Ohio State’s founders agreed that Ohio’s sons and daughters should have access to a broad “liberal arts” education, not one more narrowly focused.
Ohio State has never lost sight of that promise. The university unified the College of Arts and Sciences in 2010 from five former colleges to promote interdisciplinary research and scholarship, create a strong voice and a united liberal arts and sciences community, and provide the best possible education for our students. We have an enduring, steadfast belief in the power generated by that fusion of art + science + humanities.
The most important thing we do? We teach students how to ask questions and find answers. If you can do that, you can do anything. And our graduates prove it every day.