Frequently Asked Questions
Some of the sites to which your statistics refer also say that STEM majors often make more money than humanities ones. What do you say to that?
It’s true that, if you goal is to maximize your average annual salary, or reduce your average rate of unemployment to the smallest number possible, there are better choices for you than the humanities. You might for instance choose to major in petroleum engineering, or nursing, or economics. Here’s one version of the data, from Georgetown University.
The point of these posters is not to insist otherwise, but to suggest that some of the major myths governing humanities degrees — that they’re gateways to poverty — are simply not credible, given the evidence.
In short: we’re not saying you should major in a humanities field to get rich. We’re saying you shouldn’t avoid majoring in a humanities field out of fear that you won’t find a good job or earn a good living. Because that’s not true.
Why “the humanities” and not a focus on specific majors? Why “STEM”?
We don’t use the terms lightly. In fact the data suggests that these kinds of broad aggregations (humanities, social sciences, STEM) don’t make much sense when it comes to job outcomes or salary figures: there are huge differences between psychology and economics (both social sciences) or between engineering and biology (both STEM degrees) or between art history, education, and Spanish (all humanities).
In general we don’t think the humanities/STEM distinction is useful. But the myths we are fighting begin by using those terms, which is why we use them here: in order to combat those myths in their own language.
Aren’t you just preaching to the converted? Don’t all the people using these posters already believe these things?
Weirdly, no! In fact at least one of us spent part of his early career parroting some of these myths for undergraduates, much to his current shame. We believe that faculty in the humanities often indirectly reproduce these myths as a way of resisting (correctly) the demand that all college education be conceived of as job training. But our experience has shown that the concerns these posters address are very real for undergraduate students, and for their parents. And we believe that humanities faculty and advisors have a duty to help prepare students to answer these questions.
Even if it is the converted who download these posters, the students walking through the halls who see them, or the parents who receive these postcards, are not necessarily converts. And the audiences you reach with the poster are up to you: we also believe in sharing these kinds of data with colleagues from other units, and in supporting one another’s academic programs. Producing and sharing knowledge is not a zero-sum game.
Isn’t focusing on these financial outcomes just buying in to the idea that the point of going to college is to get a job? Doesn’t reproducing these myths just perpetuate them?
Unfortunately, these are the kinds of things our students hear — from their families, their friends, and sometimes their advisors or teachers. It’s hard to fight back against falsehoods without repeating them, but it’s harder to fight back against them if you can’t speak about them at all.
Though we believe that there is much more to a college education than the job you get afterwards, we also know that many students feel that majoring in the humanities requires sacrificing their future financial security. Our argument here and elsewhere is that this is not true — that majoring in humanistic fields, though it may (on average) not produce the highest lifetime salary, does not require students to sacrifice security or well-being or a meaningful career in exchange for their choice.
Among the lowest-paid majors are those focused on social work and education. Isn’t that the real scandal?
Yes, it is. If you look at the data, the majors associated with the lowest salary outcomes are consistently those that teach students how to help other people. And the majors associated with the highest salary outcomes are those that often involve participating in the fossil-fuel-led destruction of the planet, the exploitation of financial systems, or the expropriation of human work and human life. These posters are not trying to solve that problem, which will need to be solved by political action (as well as perhaps some fancy posters from some other website).