The stereotype of art history graduates asking whether you’d like to upsize your fries at McDonald’s may soon be over.
The joke lies on the premise that art history – as a major – is not one with the brightest career prospects despite their undeniable value in the pursuit of knowledge. Like other liberal arts majors, such as foreign languages and journalism, they usually record lower salaries and number of job offers. But the days that such stereotypes still ring true may be numbered.
Several universities are coming up with novel ways to boost their liberal arts graduates’ employability. Here are some notable examples of how they’re helpings majors in artistic fields find employment after graduation:
1. Specific industry-related courses
At the University of Texas, Arlington, students in the art and art history department get to sign up for specific courses and concentrations on design packaging. Meanwhile, music students are taking musician management classes in the college of business in addition to their conventional music education. These offerings are based on an understanding of the state’s labour market: There is demand in Texas for more professionally trained employees in both.
“If you look at the US Department of Labor, the amount of musicians and singers in Texas is expected to grow by about 17 percent in the next eight years or so,” Vistasp Karbhari, UT Arlington’s President, told Inside Higher Ed.
“A lot of that growth comes from things like agents and business managers of music. The challenge within the industry is that most of the people who do this come out from the business major side or from communications — it’s not that they have a true understanding of music. And therefore musicians often feel that these people don’t quite understand what they’re trying to do.”
2. ‘Skills mapping’
A growing trend in many campuses today is the ‘skills map’. This is where administrators and faculty look for what today’s job market requires of college graduates in terms of knowledge and abilities on top of just the traditional degree. Associate Dean for Academics in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida Allison Cleveland-Roberts, made her skills map by analysing job listings. Data aggregated from these help wanted ads revealed the skills employers are seeking in today’s graduates.
The College has 65 programmes, 22 departments and 600 faculty. Though the skills map divided the College, (Some hated it,” Cleveland-Roberts told Education Dive, “but they still got the point”), some accepted the findings and planned to amend their curriculum accordingly.
3. Students and universities should market “human” skills more
Liberal arts students should market their “human” skills – communication, leadership and problem solving – more, according to Rob Sentz, Chief Innovation Officer at Emsi. Sentz co-authored a report examining liberal arts programmes which found that it’s not a question of either “hard skills” of STEM trumping the “soft skills” of the humanities. Rather, both will be needed to best prepare for the future of work.
Several findings from the report required more attention from students and employers. Among workers with liberal arts BAs, 70 percent were working full-time. While they earn on average US$5,000 less than the average college graduate, it is still US$20,000 more than high school graduates. “Two out of five liberal arts graduates, however, go on to earn graduate degrees, which further boosts their earnings to $76,000 annually, on average,” said the report.
“…as a result, depending on who you ask, these graduates are either headed for a lifetime as a barista or are capable of doing absolutely anything,” according to the report.
4. More problem-centred, transdisciplinary learning
Davidson College’s “Digital Studies” minor was introduced to make its curriculum “less departmentally focused,” according to its President, Carol Quillen. Focusing on the “digital tools, cultures, and practices that permeate everyday life” and their social and historical contexts, the discipline bridges usual distinctions between the sciences and the humanities.
The minor aims to arm students with these 21st-century skills: procedural literacy, data awareness, network sensibility, entrepreneurial thinking, iterative design, digital citizenship, information preservation and sustainability and the ethical use of technology.
“We’re thinking about a liberal arts curriculum that looks much more transdisciplinary and pulls courses and faculty members from across the disciplines together,” she said.