Can Unemployed Jobseekers Complain When They Have a Liberal Arts Degree?

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.

man looking up complaining in silhouette A recruiting expert recently shared a meme with me (please view at the bottom of this article). It has a photo of (I assume) a student with the words: Complains there are no jobs for college grads…majors in 12th Century English poetry.

At first, I found this meme distasteful; after all, I am the proud, full-time employed holder of a liberal arts degree and definitely support pursuing this major. The tweet this meme was shared in included the hashtag #STEM, which led me to conclude that the meme was supporting STEM education.

STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, education has received a major push over the past few years as more and more people advocate for an increase in this type of education.

The STEM Education Coalition is a perfect example of this, as the organization believes that STEM education must be elevated as a national priority and “our nation’s future economic prosperity is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields.”

Another STEM advocate, Change the Equation, believes that “STEM learning is an economic imperative.” According to the organization’s website, “experts say that technological innovation accounted for almost half of U.S. economic growth over the past 50 years, and almost all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in STEM.”

Many news outlets have also covered the importance of increasing STEM education and its economic benefits. For example, this US News & World Report article, “STEM Education Is the Key to the U.S.’s Economic Future,” explained how, in 2012, many of the unfilled jobs in our nation (which affected the unemployment rate) required a STEM background.

“Increasingly, one of our richest sources of employment and economic growth will be jobs that require skills in these areas, collectively known as STEM,” the story said. “The question is: Will we be able to educate enough young Americans to fill them?”

When it comes to college degrees, the STEM vs. liberal arts debate is nothing new. Of course, many have followed the notion (of the meme referenced above) that a liberal arts degree has lesser value, lesser employability for its holder and decreased future earnings potential.

Yet, in recent years, more and more people are coming to the conclusion that it’s not one or the other but a combination of STEM and liberal arts skills that equal success.

Writing for, John Ebersole says:

Obtaining “harder” skills such as those applicable to many STEM careers is surely critical yet even those working in the most highly technical fields can benefit from the “well-rounded” advantages that the liberal arts can provide. Likewise, those schooled in the liberal arts must have at least basic skills in the sciences and mathematics that underpin the technology upon which our society is so dependent.

It’s not an either or issue when it comes to education. It’s a combination of STEM programs and the liberal arts that will meet the future needs of our nation and the world at large.

And Baltimore-based Art & Science Group, LLC, references a Michigan State University study that showed how STEM and liberal arts skills work together.

Recently, however, we’ve seen studies and editorials arguing that both STEM skills and liberal arts work hand-in-hand, mostly due to new surveys of employers that revealed how much they value creative thinking and communication skills. The MSU study sheds more light on the interrelationship between creativity in the arts and STEM, but it also opens a pandora’s box about STEM investment, k-12 funding, and how achievable success in this field is for the majority of Americans.

Yet, there’s also conflicting information out there.

An infographic created by HR Block showed that at 31 percent, Business was the most in-demand college major. This was followed by mostly STEM majors such as Computer and Information Sciences (24%), Engineering (17%) and health professions and related clinical sciences (10%).

The infographic also listed the 10 worst majors, which included many liberal arts degrees such as Fine Arts, Film/Video and Graphic Arts, as well as History and Physical Fitness & Parks/Rec.

According to Dan Schawbel and his company’s study, “The Multi-Generational Job Search,” (with, “only 2% of employers are actively recruiting liberal arts degree holders. Compare that to the 27% that are recruiting engineering and computer information systems majors and 18% that are recruiting business majors.”

Yet, the same study, Schawbel points out, revealed that employers are hiring for cultural fit over any other qualifications. He writes:

Companies are interested in your personality over your grades and extracurricular activities. Due to the amount of resumes employers receive, they have become more picky with who they select. Also, they know that if an employee is a good cultural fit, they will stay longer and be more successful overall at their job.

Cultural fit has a lot to do with soft skills, which now carry more weight than hard skills. According to the survey, the top three attributes that companies are currently looking for are a positive attitude (84%), communication skills (83%), and an ability to work as a team (74%).

Also, Heather R. Huhman reports that, “77 percent of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they were seeking candidates with soft skills — and 16 percent of the respondents considered such qualities more crucial than hard skills.”

With so much back and forth employment data out there, what are current college students to do? Should they follow their passions, choose liberal arts and risk un or underemployment post-graduation? Should they simply major in STEM areas because the job outlook is more optimistic? Should they not place so much emphasis on their degrees and follow in the footsteps of so many other millennials who have become entrepreneurs (I’m in favor of this option—but that’s another post for another day!)?

Share your thoughts below on non-STEM degrees, employment and success.

Stem degree meme

By Shala Marks