Much has already been written about pursuing higher education. The prevailing mentality for quite some time was to emphasize science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Obtaining a STEM degree was supposedly the golden ticket to higher base salaries and lifelong earnings. That’s the sentiment conveyed by Forbes contributor, Kate Ashford, who highlighted a recently published study suggesting that STEM majors have the best career prospects. The article also quoted Sarah Berger, CEO of The Cashlorette, who proclaimed: “When deciding a college major, it’s important to not only choose something that interests you, but also a field that offers employment opportunities and earning potential.” The takeaway is relatively straightforward–STEM majors have a distinct advantage.
If only the reality were that simple. It’s true that the humanities and the social sciences have taken a backseat to STEM education, but that isn’t necessarily a positive outcome. Too little attention has been given to the long-term trend and, as a result, there are scholars who remain skeptical about the overall implications for society. Rosanna Warren at The New Republic is one such voice of reason. She released a poignant essay describing the decline of the humanities. According to her, “Our civilization may now be so coarsened that we will eliminate the humanities from our schools, and we will train citizens only for technical skills which give them no sense of what they are living for, or why.”
Rosanna was joined by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post, who composed an equally compelling commentary on the subject. She explained why we need to study humanities in a STEM world. Valerie deliberately cited several influential figures highly involved in education reform. She first introduced the author, George Anders, who published his book entitled, You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education. Next came Gerald Greenberg, the Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University. Thoughts shared by Professor Rens Bod at the University of Amsterdam were used to conclude the article. All three have devoted considerable time and effort to liberal arts advocacy.
Fortunately, there are signs that the relentless enthusiasm for STEM education is starting to wane. Ronald Barba at Tech Co put together an informative piece discussing why pursuing STEM might not be worth it. He relies on data collected by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce (CEW), which indicates that while STEM fields are definitely lucrative, not all of them are necessarily created equally. In other words, certain STEM fields offer professionals higher starting salaries and greater long-term earning potential. Emily Moore at Glassdoor corroborated Ronald’s findings even more recently.
Another promising reality is the fact that more and more employers are admitting the need for critical-thinkers as opposed to technocrats, exclusively. Samantha Cole at Fast Company drew attention to critical-thinkers a few years ago while elaborating on why employers so desperately want them. The expression “critical thinking” has been around for a while yet it isn’t so clearly defined. According to Samantha, however, there are four critical elements to a seasoned critical-thinker: (1) they can read between the lines, (2) they dig deeper, (3) they embody healthy skepticism, and (4) they come well-prepared. While those soft skills might sound easy to cultivate, they really aren’t.
So how does one cultivate them? Concerted effort. Alison Doyle at The Balance has done everyone the favor of defining critical thinking and proposing some illustrative examples. She begins with a short explanation of why employers find critical thinking so valuable. The most important pointers are the five critical thinking skills everyone should develop. According to her, the five areas below are the most essential to success:
- Analytical: The ability to interpret data and extract meaning from it.
- Communication: The ability to share interpreted meaning accurately with others.
- Creativity: The ability to isolate and extrapolate new patterns and meaning.
- Open-Mindedness: The ability to remain impartial to antecedents, consequences, and implications.
- Problem-Solving: The ability to formulate viable solutions tailored to specific problems.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that those skills are naturally cultivated within a liberal arts education. Whereas STEM majors focus almost exclusively on technical or ‘hard’ skills, the liberal arts prepares its students to internalize a wide variety of inputs and generate completely new outputs. For those of you who might have been sitting on the fence about their college major, this should help add clarity to the decision-making. Suffice it to say there’s also no shortage of options, either. Students can explore online liberal arts degree programs or accredited online degree programs.
What matters most is that people spend adequate time investigating options. Staff writers at Vanguard offered sage advice when it comes to the college selection process. They recommend deciding what type of college could be the right fit and including both in-state and out-of-state options on any shortlist. The importance of understanding graduation rates and the net cost is also reinforced. The key is never underestimating the value of proper due diligence.