Humanities Versus STEM in College


By Rachel Vigil

As a student currently ruminating on which college I will go to and what I’m planning to do with my life, I often hear that the English and history classes I’m taking are useless.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear teachers and students heavily criticizing people who receive degrees in the humanities, a statement that irks me to no end.

However, despite the oversaturation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (or STEM)  programs that are constantly advertised in high school, business degrees, which are neither in STEM nor the humanities, actually make up the largest block of all college graduates at about 23% of all degrees in 2010 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. STEM degrees experienced a decline in percent, though not actual numbers, in the period from 2003 to 2010. Humanities majors were at about 9% in that same time frame.

A usual argument against majors in the humanities is that they are in low demand by employers, especially now that college graduates face unemployment after graduation on top of the ever-growing student debt.  The statement that graduates with degrees in the humanities are unable to get jobs has questionable legitimacy. While graduates with architecture degrees face unemployment as high as 13.9% in 2010 (mind you, that was right after the hardest part of the recession), psychology majors only faced 7.9% unemployment. In the same time frame, engineering majors faced 7.5% unemployment, and computers and mathematics majors had rates of 8.2% unemployment. Though there was slightly higher unemployment among humanities majors, most careers were not as significantly different as science teachers would have you believe.

In addition to similar rates of unemployment, STEM degrees don’t always create the same critical and creative thinkers that humanities degrees do. While there is a huge worth and use for the scientific method, especially when conducting experiments, some students are limited when getting STEM degrees that don’t offer the same creative approach to subjects that humanity careers do. In a similar fashion, humanities degrees don’t give students experience in computer programming, math, or science, all of which are increasingly important to prospective employers.

On top of that engineers have some of the highest average wages at $100,970 according to the Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences National Labor Statistics, while historians have an average salary of $52,480 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost every STEM career holds higher earnings than a career in the humanities. It’s much harder to become a bestselling author or famous artist than it is to become a successful doctor or engineer.

When you look at base numbers, you may think that the allure of money offered by STEM jobs may immediately make them superior when compared humanities careers, but money isn’t everything. Workers are more likely to be satisfied in jobs that they hold interest in. In addition to that, careers and job demands are constantly evolving. Fifty years ago, a job in manufacturing was enough for most people to live comfortably on, and now it is a slowly dying industry in the U.S., employing fewer and fewer people. Humanities majors are prepared with thinking skills that don’t prepare them for only one job, but instead many. As the job market changes, they can, too.

In the end, any degree a person gets equips them with different skills that are useful in a variety of ways. Our society can’t be made up entirely of engineers, but it can’t be entirely starving artists either. Students should pursue fields they’re passionate about. A worker who doesn’t care about their job or degree is much less likely to work as hard or make as many innovations in their field. Before judging the degrees of others, it’s important to step back and think of the necessity of variation in our society and the careers available.