Political philosophy class, 11.19

Lisa Wilkinson teaches her students about John Rawls' argument against utilitarianism during her political philosophy class at Nebraska Wesleyan University on Monday.

College students often hear how they need to be prepared for the workforce and the real world.

An emphasis on career readiness, especially in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fields, now stretches from elementary school all the way to college campuses. While obviously important, the recent focus on that buzzword only covers half the picture.

The critical thinking and well-roundedness promoted by traditional humanities courses – languages, history, philosophy, classics, arts, etc. – are too often overlooked. Despite their importance, in this day and age of shrinking college funding, they’re also far too often on the chopping block.

Earlier this year, a proposed decrease in state appropriations to the University of Nebraska, for instance, saw UNL’s art history and geography departments slated for elimination. Though the university doesn’t classify them as humanities for administrative purposes, the aims of these programs fit squarely within the classification.

Perhaps our editorial board’s opinion is shaded, as three of our seven members completed humanities majors in college. They feel that broader base of knowledge gained has served them well in the newspaper industry.

Humanities coursework is often criticized because it doesn’t translate directly to a particular job in the ways that majors in business, education and engineering do. But that view loses sight of the broader purpose of college – opening the minds of students and challenging their worldviews by exposing them to new perspectives and expert instructors – that all students should experience in multiple classes.

Not to mention employers’ increased desire in college graduates with the skill sets sharpened by backgrounds in humanities.

As detailed by the Journal Star's Chris Dunker, a study by the Strada Institute for the Future of Work and the labor market analytics firm Emsi discovered the so-called “human skills” – such as communication, leadership and problem solving – promoted by humanities education were in high demand. Furthermore, those traits transcend artificial divisions to benefit graduates, regardless of the area in which they’re employed.

Yes, many humanities majors choose their major because of a desire for a job in a humanities-related field, one that the American Academy of Arts & Sciences detailed results in wages below the median for all graduates, at $52,000 vs. $60,000. However, 87 percent of humanities majors expressed a satisfaction in their jobs.

As June Griffin, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Journal Star: “We’ve seen a pushback against the ‘What would you ever do with that?’ ... You can do anything with the kind of knowledge and skill-set you learn in those disciplines.”

Exactly – that’s what makes humanities a vital component of an educated workforce prepared for the real world. While those classes may face budget-related uncertainty, they unquestionably offer benefits to students and employers alike.

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