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President’s Executive Order/College Scorecard
Perpetuate Misleading “Job Ready” Stereotype
Investments in Humanities/Social Science Majors Increase Societal Payoffs
The President’s recent Executive Order regarding “free inquiry” is a textbook example of his classic negotiating ploy -- misdirection. While our attention is directed to dealing with a few sensational instances of campus disruptions, the Executive Order provisions to which we really ought to attend have to do with “improving transparency and accountability.”
Section 4 of this Executive Order deals with “Improving Transparency and Accountability on Campus,” and directs the Secretary of Education to establish reporting mechanisms as part of an expanded College Scorecard for program-level earnings and student loan default rates. Given the wide acceptance of a Druckerism, you tend to manage what you measure, expanding the scorecard to report earnings by major degree program is highly problematic.
Packed into this “accountability” directive is an implicit – and incorrect – assumption that “success” means higher salary. We have solid evidence that one can make a decent living in a variety of career paths using one’s training in the humanities and social science disciplines, but basing one’s choice of college majors on short-term earnings data perpetuates the misleading stereotype about “job-ready” majors.
We are all for free inquiry. The American Anthropological Association recently reaffirmed its long-standing commitment to academic freedom, and applauds the American Association of Universities’ statement on campuses remaining the bedrock of open inquiry and free speech.
However, this seemingly innocuous call for “accountability” needs to be accompanied by careful attention to what counts. Are earnings and loan default rates the best measures of student success? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that humanities/social science majors do just fine in the post-graduation labor markets, but we also think the likely societal payoffs that come from investments in these majors go far beyond jobs.
On the jobs front, as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession, unemployment rates have fallen for all college graduates and humanities/social science majors are employed at rates comparable to their peers in other major fields of study. Students with these majors find employment in a wide variety of careers, and are, as their careers progress, quite likely to be managers in their selected fields. A few years out of college, humanities and liberal arts majors outperform majors in fields like business management and accounting, for example. And over the course of a lifetime, a recent Brookings Institution analysis shows that the top 10% of earners in history and philosophy beat out those in computer science.
Perhaps even more important are the societal payoffs from investing in humanities and social sciences on campus, payoffs that go far beyond jobs. Graduates from these fields are well prepared to continue for additional professional training in law, medicine, business, and public service. They are well prepared to reflect on the breadth and complexity of the problems we face in the 21st-century, and play a key role in developing culturally sensitive strategies in a world that is increasingly animated by cross-cultural contacts. And directly out of school, graduates go to work improving healthcare and educational systems, developing environmental sustainability, protecting cultural heritage, reducing global inequalities, and increasing awareness of the many forms of households and families that raise our children and take care of our elderly.
We hear from recent graduates regularly, and they often offer testimonials to the value of their major. “The transferable life and problem solving skills I learned … has helped me to better interact with members of the community,” one non-profit housing specialist recently wrote. “It taught me organizational and program analysis skills, and helped me study trends in the community to better understand what our clients are looking for in a quality program.”
The new normal is that companies are now looking for candidates with essential critical thinking skills that include analytical ability, cultural understanding, effective communication, and an overall engagement with the world. Success is not salary. In our view, it is all about meaningful careers and civic participation.