"We need to speak more concretely to the economic as well as the intellectual value of a liberal arts degree," he observes.
I agree, of course; boy do I agree. I only wish the concrete rather than abstract value of a liberal arts degree, and now Ph.D., was clearer to me, too. I went into this at age 18 (in the beginning at least) believing that the liberal arts allowed for the greatest amount of self exploration, creative expression, reading/writing, and critical analysis, all elements I sought in a major, and especially in a lifelong career, at the time. I still seek these elements in my pursuit of a professional life but have now come to realize that they're not appreciated by the vast majority of people in the US and that getting paid a decent salary to be a well-rounded, smart, critical thinker and writer is incredibly difficult. The economic value is still lost to me personally.
So who can blame these skeptical parents and undergrads? We liberal arts majors don't usually have good news to report about our personal financial situations, at least not at the moment. Well, come to think of it, none of my friends who majored in English, history, or anthropology back in the day ended up where they would have liked. Let me give you an illustration of where they are now.
Some highly subjective but legit examples of real-world results of liberal arts degrees:
1. Waitress for a catering company ($12.00 per hr)
2. Library assistant ($15.00 per hour)
3. Library clerk ($11.00 per hr)
4. UPS driver ($10.00 per hr)
5. High school teacher ($45,000)
6. Adjunct university instructor ($12,00 per year)
7. Administrative assistant ($38,000)
8. Assoc. director of an academic program ($40,000)
9. Tenure-track professor ($50,000)
10. Freelance writer (negligible salary info.)
11. After-school programs consultant ($13.00 per hr)
12. Unemployment benefits
|Where's my change?|
I could list more results but the proof is in the pudding: no one I know with a liberal arts background makes more than $50K per year, and these are people in their 30s and 40s. Now, for some, a salary ranging anywhere from $12-50K, with both $12 & $50K being the result of many additional years in school, might be good enough. I say let's advise all of those people with low salary expectations (and hence no knowledge of the costs of real world living) to major in the liberal arts. Then no one will be bitter and shocked down the line.
My list is also reflective of the major "economic shift" that Greenwald talks about: "Today estimates are that over 25 percent of the American population is working as contingent labor -- freelancers, day laborers, consultants, micropreneurs. Sitting where we do it is easy to dismiss this number because we assume it comes from day laborers and the working class, i.e., the non-college-educated."
Um, NO. I don't assume it comes solely from the non-college-educated. Only someone sitting relatively pretty would make such a statement!
"Today’s liberal arts graduates will need to function in an economy that is in some ways smaller. Most will work for small firms and many will simply work on their own. They will need to multitask as well as blend work and family," he concludes.
None of this sounds that promising to me as a job-seeking Ph.D. in my 30s. Can't imagine how it would sound if I was 18.