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Oh, the Humanities
updated: Dec 07, 2013, 3:00 PM

By Christina Knueven

The commencement ceremonies for University of California Santa Barbara graduates tend to be pretty similar. There's the increasingly rank summer smell of the lagoon, black robes clinging to sweaty skin, proud and teary-eyed parents in sunglasses and hats.

Humane society: Dean David Marshall addresses liberal arts graduates.
(Sonia Fernandez)

At the June ceremony for humanities and fine arts graduates, however, both parents and soon-to-be civilians may have felt they received an extra little gift when Dean David Marshall showered the crowd with encouraging statistics about the success rate and salary potential for humanities majors. For example, Marshall informed parents who may have secretly wished their kids studied something practical, 10 years after graduation linguistics majors have higher salaries than both molecular biology and accounting majors. Also, 93 percent of business executives agreed that a "candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than [his or her] undergraduate major."

UCSB is not the only university that has a strong national and international reputation in research science programs trying to shine more light on the humanities and combat misperceptions about a humanities-based education. A recent New York Times article surveying college administrators and professors from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and UC Berkeley, noted that humanities enrollment and funding is shrinking on many campuses, some of which have sterling programs. Among the culprits, the article suggests, are the recession, which has shifted higher education to a jobs-based pursuit, and outside funding which has largely gone to science, technology, engineering and math in recent years.

However, UCSB, which recently launched a dean's initiative to promote its humanities programs, would like to correct some of the prevailing notions about enrollment. Taking a pause in his spacious, sun- splashed campus office, Marshall explains that, "There is not really as radical a decline if you look at it in context of the last 20, 50 years. But then they start publishing these articles saying no one will major in these areas and it becomes a kind of self-perpetuating thing."

In fact, the largest decline in humanities enrollment has occurred between its peak enrollment in 1970 and 1985, and has mostly leveled off since then.

The real fear, though, is for the future. In today's tough job market, the dean is hoping to dispel the perception that pursuing a degree in the humanities condemns graduates to a life of poverty.

"It's very important that we take this seriously," Marshall says. "Because students have debt, families are understandably concerned about not only the high cost of tuition but also the unstable economy and unemployment in the country… So one of the things that we're trying to do is not only to show… that it would be a very good career choice to major in any liberal arts area, and particularly in the humanities."

As part of its humanities initiative, UCSB is test marketing data-driven promotional materials. Marshall shows off a draft of a pamphlet the school plans to distribute, "Employers, business executives, and professional leaders don't want employees with narrow vocational training. More than a particular major, they want college graduates trained in critical thinking, critical analysis and communication."

The pamphlet also cited this counterintuitive bit of information from Payscale, a salary-data website featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Time: "English majors have higher salaries than Business Administration major… History majors have higher salaries than both Health Sciences and Communication majors… French and German majors have higher salaries than Public Relations majors… and, the mid-career median salaries now listed for these majors range from $65,000 to $78,300."

Meanwhile, according to Payscale, the mid-career median salary for English majors graduation from UCSB is $86,100.

Their future is so bright they gotta wear shades. (Courtesy Photo)

Read the full article at MissionAndState.org


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