As June approaches, many new graduates will descend on the job market across the world which begs the question “What is a bachelor’s degree worth?”.
The answer seems to be that different college majors have different values, in terms of their monetary payoff. Salary website Payscale.com reports that the majors with the highest earning potential are all related to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For example, a degree in petroleum engineering would give a graduate a starting salary of 94,600$ followed by a degree in actuarial mathematics and in actuarial science providing an immediate return of 56,400$ and 61,200$ respectively.
So where does this leave non-STEM, liberal arts majors?
Employment website Monster.ca reports that completing any form of university education is still the best way to succeed financially in Canada although it concedes that certain majors are in higher demand in the job market than others. A bachelor’s degree holder earns 30% more than an individual without any degree while a master’s degree or PhD holder can increase their earnings by an additional 15%. Individuals with degrees professional degrees like commerce, nursing an engineering have a higher earning premium than those in the social sciences, life sciences and humanities. Therefore, some kind of degree is better than no degree at all.
A liberal arts degree, however, provides a different set of benefits, some of which may helpful in a competitive job market. Writing for the Globe & Mail, Scott Stirret observes that the benefit of studying a popularly reviled humanities subject can give one considerable intercultural and communication skills which can be very useful in a rapidly evolving, global work environment. He also suggests that it is the interest of all types of companies to hire individuals from different academic backgrounds, challenging the myth that organizations only hire one type of candidate. In his book In Defense of a Liberal Education, which I had the pleasure of reading, Fareed Zakaria notes that a liberal arts education gives an individual the ability to keep learning which is a valuable skill to have in a dynamic work environment where the type of skills one needs to remain competitive keeps changing.
Conventionally high earning majors such as computer science can provide graduates with immediate financial certainty and professional clarity which is decidedly harder for liberal arts graduates to achieve. That does not mean, however, that all the non-STEM graduates are about to go extinct. Their degree teaches them how to adapt to different circumstances, giving them a freedom of a different kind.