At some point, though, "you get too many STEM graduates," said Patrick Kelly, a senior associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. And liberal arts graduates bring key skills to the job market, he added.
"If you ask any employers what they would like to see better associated with graduates, it's communication skills, the ability to write well, and the ability to work in teams."
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Indeed, 93 percent of the employers surveyed for the Association of American Colleges and Universities report agreed with the statement that "candidates' demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major." Only 16 percent said knowledge of a specific field or skill was most important for long-term success.
Liberal arts graduates may not go on to jobs that are as lucrative as engineering of physical science careers, Kelly said, but they do fill jobs that are important to society, as teachers, social workers, and the like. If they continue on to graduate school and pick up career-specific skills, liberal arts degree holders can significantly boost their income, he added, and earning some kind of proficiency in a technical area can also supplement their liberal arts qualifications.
A 2013 study by Burning Glass, a labor analytics company, supports that idea. The study examined a year's worth of job openings and found that liberal arts graduates, far from being unemployable, were qualified for about 25 percent of them. If those same graduates took a few courses or landed an internship that gave them some technical skills, they qualified for about twice as many.
Acquiring these skills will make a big difference in liberal arts majors' employability, but "this is stuff that can live at the peripheries of your academic program," said Matt Sigelman, chief executive of Burning Glass.
The extra work also boosts liberal arts majors' earnings prospects, the study found. Developing one or more of eight skill sets—marketing, sales, business, social media, graphic design, data analysis, computer programming or IT networking—makes them eligible for jobs with starting salaries about $6,000 higher.
"Even in technical roles, you see employers shouting from the rooftops that they can't get what they need. What they're often talking about are foundational skills," Sigelman said. "The market for what liberal arts students are accruing is as strong as ever. They just need to figure out how to acquire the job market skills to make themselves relevant right out the door."
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CORRECTION: An earlier version misspelled the last name of Matt Sigelman.