Liberal arts lead to good jobs report finds

A recently released report by UBC Economics Prof. Robert Allen dispels a popular view in Canada that liberal arts degrees are irrelevant to success in the world economy.

In fact, data indicates liberal arts graduates do better than people with trade, technical or vocational training according to the report.

The report, commissioned by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, uses the most recently available census data and the Survey of Consumer Finance to document the success of graduates in the social science, humanities and education.

"Graduates in these areas find good jobs and earn high incomes compared to people with less education," says Allen.

Allen says the report was undertaken to determine whether graduates of liberal arts programs lack the skills needed to find good jobs and face high unemployment as many Canadians believe.

It also looked at whether graduates who do find work find it in low-wage jobs that don't require a university education.

Critics of liberal arts programs have argued money would be better spent on technical and vocational training that gives students the skills employers want.

"The problem with this argument is that it is wrong," says Allen. "Census data contradicts the view that most graduates in liberal arts have trouble finding work or are waiting on tables or driving taxis."

The report says demand for university graduates, including those in the liberal arts, is growing rapidly with the expansion of universities and colleges matching the shift in labor demand toward more highly educated workers.

Data shows 50 to 60 per cent of men and women with bachelor degrees in the humanities and social sciences work in managerial and professional jobs.

Women graduates from 20 to 29 years old earned from $30,000 to more than $32,000 per year compared to $25,519 for those with a post-secondary diploma.

The range for male graduates in the same age group ranged from $32,000 to more than $39,000 compared to $34,000 for those with post-secondary diplomas.

However, the data does support perceptions that the economic environment has become more difficult for young Canadians.

At the same time, unemployment rates among graduates in the humanities, social sciences and education were considerably lower than the 9.3 per cent rate for unemployed graduates of technical or vocational programs. It was almost equal to university graduates' average of 5.8 per cent.

"A liberal arts degree gives students general skills to go on to become lifelong learners," says Allen. "They pick up what they need along the way."

Allen also evaluated education, humanities and social programs as investment projects to determine if they generate enough economic growth to justify the resources spent on them.

He found the programs pay their way -- each earns enough income to cover the costs of the programs.