Science, technology, engineering, math – the STEM subjects are rightfully lauded as critical to 21st-century education and to economic prosperity.
But it’s also important to learn how to think and adapt to the changing business world. In many cases, students must prepare for jobs that don’t even exist yet, but will soon thanks to the advancement of technology. Here are four studies and a story that show why a liberal arts education and training in “softer skills” can prepare students for success.
Study #1: CEOs Pick Creativity as the Most Important Key to Success
A 2010 IBM study of over 1,500 CEOs across many different countries and industries found that “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision — successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.”
In fact, the majority of the CEOs interviewed believed their companies were not ready for a “highly volatile, increasingly complex business environment,” according to IBM’s press release.
“CEOs,” said the release “are confronted with massive shifts – new government regulations, changes in global economic power centers, accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data, rapidly evolving customer preferences – that, according to the study, can be overcome by instilling ‘creativity’ throughout an organization.”
Studying liberal arts can help foster creativity by fostering connections between disciplines.
Study #2: 93% of Business Leaders Value Clear Thinking Over College Major
The Association of American Colleges and Universities released a report in 2013 “summarizing the findings of a national survey of business and nonprofit leaders.”
93% of the surveyed employers said “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”
For many, liberal arts are a pathway to developing communication and problem solving skills.
In fact, 80% of surveyed employers think that “regardless of their major, every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.”
Study #3: During Peak Earning Years, Liberal Arts Majors Earn More
A 2014 report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities found:
At peak earnings ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2000 morethan those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields. These data include all college graduates working full-time, including those with only a baccalaureate degree and those with both a baccalaureate and graduate or professional degree. [Emphasis original]
In the report, professional or pre-professional fields include nursing and business. Engineering degrees are a separate category; science or mathematics degrees are also a separate category.
Study #4: Art Stimulates Innovation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Majors
You don’t have to be a math major or an artist. You can be both. In fact, the combination of “right brain” and “left brain” abilities can drive the economy forward.
In 2013, Economic Development Quarterly published the article “Arts and Crafts: Critical to Economic Innovation.” From the article’s abstract:
A study of Michigan State University Honors College science and technology graduates (1990-1995) yielded four striking results: (a) graduates majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects are far more likely to have extensive arts and crafts skills than the average American; (b) arts and crafts experiences are significantly correlated with producing patentable inventions and founding new companies; (c) the majority believe that their innovative ability is stimulated by their arts and crafts knowledge; and (d) lifelong participation and exposure in the arts and crafts yields the most significant impacts for innovators and entrepreneurs.
The Story: Steve Jobs Took a Calligraphy Class
In his 2005 commencement address to Stanford University, Jobs recalled taking a “fascinating” calligraphy class that did not have “even a hope of any practical application in my life.”
But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. . . . Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
At its core, that’s what liberal arts training can do. Connect the dots for beautiful, unexpected, and sometimes economically potent results.