Liberal Arts Degrees: Are They Worthless or Do
They Help American Businesses Excel?

The relentless push to increase “efficiency” in both higher education and government continues apace.  Unfortunately, as is often the case these days, the focus on efficiency is also leading to an abundance of misinformation and short-term thinking.  Many have probably already heard about various governors calling for redirecting funds away from “useless” fields like Anthropology or Gender Studies.   Representative Eric Cantor called this week for a halt to all government spending on “the social sciences.”  AAC&U’s President Carol Geary Schneider makes clear the dangers posed to our economy and our democracy by these “posturings” by politicians in a recent op-ed in Inside Higher Ed.

Readers of this blog will, of course, likely know that AAC&U has worked hard through our LEAP initiative for a long time to help higher education do a better job of educating students, parents, and others outside of our institutions about the continuing value of the learning outcomes developed through liberal education—and through well-designed majors in a variety of fields, including the humanities and social sciences. We obviously still have much work to do! The new innovation-driven, global, and knowledge-intensive economy clearly demands the cognitive powers and ethical responsibilities developed in and through study in the liberal arts and sciences.

In addition to the employer surveys AAC&U has commissioned and the data on the economy we’ve compiled in our “Economic Case for Liberal Education” set of slides, one can also just look at a list of Fortune 100 CEOs—and the fields in which they received their undergraduate degrees—for further evidence of the value of the humanities and social sciences.

For instance, the following companies all are led by CEOs with undergraduate degrees in either the humanities or social sciences:

  • Cardinal Health
  • Safeway
  • Phillip Morris
  • American Express
  • JP Morgan Chase
  • TIAA-CREF
  • Merck
  • Freddie Mac
  • Sprint Nextel
  • MetLife
  • World Fuel Services
  • Coca-Cola
  • Bank of America
  • Intel
  • Kraft Foods
  • United Continental
  • FedEx
  • Boeing

If one adds to the list those with degrees in traditional STEM fields—mathematics, geology, chemistry—it includes these companies as well:

  • Microsoft
  • American International Group
  • General Electric
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Sunoco
  • PepsiCo
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Murphy Oil

I am assuming that even Representative Eric Cantor can appreciate the value these companies—and their leaders—bring to our economy?


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One Response to “Liberal Arts Degrees: Are They Worthless or Do
They Help American Businesses Excel?”

  1. Andrew says:

    Nice post. Makes me happy to be a liberal arts major. We are important!

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