You're Majoring In What?
But Richard Deeran and other concerned parents aren’t wrong to worry. Our future economic welfare is, indeed, a part of life. “I call that the relevance challenge,” said Kletzer, acknowledging our society’s anxiety over the economic practicality of the liberal arts—“the humanities relevance challenge.”
“Having a liberal arts major that provides the set of skills that employers are looking for, which really are the quantitative, the analytical, the communication, the collaboration skills. Those are the ones that are going to lead to secure jobs that pay well,” said Kletzer, whose credentials include not just Colby dean but Ph.D. labor economist and unemployment expert.
Director of the Colby Career Center Roger Woolsey agrees that studying the liberal arts provides students with skills that are “critical” for success in today’s job market. “Going to a liberal arts institution, such as Colby, is great because it allows you to learn a variety of things which contribute to your skill set and competencies,” he said, “which positions you for success post-Colby.” The numbers support Woolsey’s claims. Last year 81 percent of graduating seniors had plans in May, including more than 60 percent with jobs lined up.
Still, as Sam Deeran has, Monica Albu ’12J has grown accustomed to skepticism about the practicality of her degree. “There were definitely some people in my family who were concerned about me being an art major and what that means,” said Albu. Her parents came to the United States from Romania, “where school is pretty specialized.” The biology and premed turned psychology turned studio art major graduated in January and was headed for New York, where she had interviewed for jobs in art therapy and hopes eventually to get her master’s degree in mental health. Her mother—a doctor—had a less meandering path into the health-care profession. “I come from a family of people who were educated in a very specific way from a younger age—for a trade,” said Albu.
Going into a liberal arts college for a specific major in order to go into a specific career, said Woolsey, is a strategy of yesteryear: “It’s not the particular major that makes a career path a success—it’s the tools you’re acquiring as a liberal arts student.”
“A more vocational school would have narrowed my skill set, giving me a succinct set of skills, but ultimately limiting me,” wrote Sam Deeran via email, thankful that he won’t be pigeonholed into any one industry or profession. “I chose American studies so that I could fashion myself into the thinker I wanted to be.” Deeran considers himself a strong candidate for a myriad of future careers, and he views the skills he’s acquired at Colby “as means to many different ends.”
“Doors will open,” said McFadden. And, thanks to the liberal arts education that Colby provides, “you will have the skills to go through those doors.” Her words of wisdom—or perhaps the sidebar, right, showing what a few Colby alumni have done— may be a comfort to Deeran, Albu, and the rest of the members of the Class of 2012 who will be entering a challenging job market this May.
Ultimately time and experience will provide answers to that pesky but familiar question: What are we going to do with our liberal arts degrees? Everything.