Perhaps a societal mantra is that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees are pathways to lucrative careers, particularly for graduates with credentials in chemical engineering, computer science, cybersecurity or data analytics. These individuals are not only typically able to easily find employment, but are also likely to command relatively high salaries and enjoy job mobility across a wide array of industries and sectors.
Yet, while the economy is expected to have long-term needs for people with expertise in the broader STEM sphere, if history reveals any lessons, there is no guarantee that specific disciplines under the STEM umbrella will always be in demand: The late 1990s, for example, witnessed a swarm of students majoring in computer science, but the “tech crash” of the year 2000 then reduced the number of these students. Additionally, each person has his or her innate aptitudes, interests and personalities, and if a student has no prowess in STEM and requires algebra tutoring twice weekly, he or she may lack the skills, motivation and persistence necessary to obtain a STEM degree, and – even if it is gained – he or she might encounter an unfulfilling career. James Newell, PhD, provost/senior vice president of academic affairs, Rowan University, explains, “Forty-five years in a job you hate. It is going to take a very substantial amount of money to make that worthwhile for somebody.”
Technology nonetheless permeates not only the job market, but nearly every aspect of people’s personal lives, so even a career as a teacher, nurse or commercial artist will likely increasingly require familiarity in the digital realm, even if strong analytical requirements are at least partially off-loaded to computer software and/or overall automation technology.
That said, many experts argue that studying history, philosophy or English literature, for example, not only yields understanding of canonical texts, but perhaps more importantly, it simultaneously provides a more panoramic context in which one can view himself or herself.
From a strictly pragmatic standpoint, experts often additionally assert that a businessperson, entrepreneur, teacher – or any member of society, for that matter – can make more informed decisions upon having studied the humanities. They are able, as merely one example, to comprehend the differences and similarities between the 2008 financial crisis, the Great Depression, the panic of 1893, and the hyperinflation crisis which beset Germany in 1923. Why should societies fumble through life when history repeats itself, even if its iterations are always unique? Why should a person naively fret about life decisions and make the mistakes made by others throughout the eons of humankind, if the overall best and worst choices are already clearly illustrated in the historical biographies of great leaders, despots, inventors and those who exceptionally met the demands of life?
If reading history books, philosophy or the works of Melville, Chaucer or Shakespeare in the 21st century still appears somewhat irrelevant to the naked eye, the life-long writing, critical thinking skills and college-classroom teamwork gained while grasping such topics and concepts are transferable abilities which can then be applied to almost any discipline, life pursuit, and many day-to-day challenges.
MaryAnn Baenninger, PhD, president of Drew University, says, “There is so much data that show when students enter the workforce, they don’t get very deep into it before the employer wants to make sure that they have ‘soft skills,’ and they are able to carry on a conversation. People like me, who have made our careers in the liberal arts, believe that we’re better at doing whatever our job is if we’re cognitively well rounded, can be persuasive in our arguments, problem solve, and think critically.”
More broadly, Peter Mercer, PhD, president of Ramapo College, explains, “We are increasingly recognizing that many of the most important questions about human existence, today, and certainly for the balance of this century, can’t be answered by the STEM disciplines, alone. In fact, in particular, you need the insights of the humanities, which enable us to, then, analyze – socially – how it is that we want to live, and what it is that we think is important.”
Life sciences visionary Fred Hassan, who received the Dr. Sol J. Barer Award for Vision, Innovation and Leadership from BioNJ in February at the Hilton East Brunscwick, is a partner and managing director at Warburg Pincus. He told the audience at the event, “Never before is biological knowledge, genetic knowledge and data science advancing at such a fast pace. We are seeing as much knowledge gained in the last two years, as we have seen in the entire history of mankind.” Yet, meanwhile, how does biotechnology relate to healthcare, governments, end-user patient populations, ethical dilemmas and what it means to “be human”? The humanities can prepare students to approach these and other questions.
At a glance, attaining humanities-centric skills may be of no apparent immediate solace to millions of college graduates who today face intense pressure to pay for their bachelor’s degrees, and then struggle to locate even mediocre-paying work upon graduation. While the job market may incrementally be improving, it is a far cry from, again, the 1990s, when a series of job interviews would allow most college graduates – even those majoring in less in-demand studies – to choose between two or three job offers, and then begin receiving paychecks substantial enough for them to “turn the key” on their first apartments and enjoy all associated freedoms.
Humans have a hard-wired need to gather resources such as food and safe shelter to both foster their own sustenance and, in many cases, provide the same for their children, so that the cycle might repeat itself, over time. And although the ability to blend these more primitive needs with a satisfying career is often described as “hard work,” many experts note that that the endeavor should not be “distressing,” but rather largely filled with “eustress”; the positive stress associated with growth, development and the ongoing mastery required for any complex field. Educational experts note that students who can freely immerse themselves with great interest in their studies can begin the path toward mastery in broad areas, and high grade point averages become an incidental, albeit highly valuable, by-product.
Regarding post-graduation outcomes, Rowan University’s Newell says, “If I am 17 years old, and I am good at math and science, and I like that, doing engineering or computer science, or analytics, makes tons of sense: I know that if I am reasonably good at it, I am almost certainly going to find a job. It is going to be the kind of job that I can make a living at, right away. If that is going to make me happy, that is a great path. But, if that is not ‘me,’ if I am not good at that, or not interested in it, then I can take [another] path: I know that my one-year-from-graduation moment is not going to be the same, on average as the student who did the STEM stuff.
“But, I also know that if I take that path, I am probably not as focused on the first job. I am really focused in on the 30- and 40-year career, and what I can build from that. … [The latter path] is going to require more work to [succeed], but if that allows me to pursue things that I am passionate about and love, I am actually going to do much better on that path than I would have on the other, in the first place.”
Buttressing college coursework are hands-on internship experiences and study abroad opportunities that may further foster a given interest or education, while yielding resume-enhancing accomplishments and skills. As previously examined in New Jersey Business magazine, even students who plan to remain in United States-based careers would do well to study foreign languages, cultures, customs and etiquette in an era when communications technology and increased international trade often mean that many smaller companies deal with foreign-based vendors and/or partners.
Robert Friedman, PhD, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University, stresses, “Given the fact that we do conduct business globally, and we interact with people who speak other languages, in order to make that business transaction successful, it is really important to understand the cultures, and have a deep understanding of the languages in which this global interaction takes place. [Pending approval,] in September of 2018 [Montclair State University] will roll out a ‘language, culture and business degree.’ That’s a full partnership between the business school and my college. The culminating experience of that is going to be a year-long set of internships, possibly study abroad – and global internships.”
A recurring theme for some experts is that if such tasks are genuinely fascinating to students (e.g., intrinsically motivating), then LinkedIn profiles, prestige and income-centric notions do not remain an incessant or unhealthy focus.
Gregory Mass, executive director, career development services at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, adds, “I have a lot of classmates and family members that didn’t pursue STEM who are, quite frankly, making a lot more money than I am. The important thing here, is: You want to make sure that you are entering a major that leads to an occupation that can’t be easily automated, through artificial intelligence or anything else.”
Likely addressing the fears of millions, Kara Rabbitt, PhD, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, William Paterson University, says, “I think people want to see a return on investment in very concrete terms, and when we look at employer surveys and long-term studies of people’s accomplishments, at mid-career, people who come from liberal arts degrees are often in stronger positions than those who come from professional degrees. But, they don’t start off that way. If you have trained for a job, then you are more likely to get a job. If you have trained for a career, you are more likely to be able to build through the leadership skills that you have, the analytical skills that you have gained – and your ability to articulate those long-term opportunities for yourself.”
Kriste Lindenmeyer, PhD, dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Camden, Rutgers University-Camden, summarizes, “You have a degree, you have options, and there are many ways to use that degree to go on for additional professional training, which – in the 21st century – is the reality. As far as an undergraduate degree [is concerned], you can have a degree in anything. It is about having passion while you are in school so that you can get up every day and do well in the major, minor, double major – whatever it is that you pick. Then, you can finish and you will know more about yourself and the world as well as career possibilities. If you want to get additional credentialing, more power to you, because, again, that is the 21st century reality.”
She adds, “Unfortunately, so many students coming to college get ‘hung up’ on this idea that they have to know exactly what degree is going to be marketable when they leave, four years later. Believe me, the [marketplace] can change overnight.”
Whatever one’s interests, STEM and the humanities are certainly not mutually exclusive. Jonathan Mercantini, acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Kean University, says, “We are increasingly encouraging students to pair a humanities major with a STEM minor or with a business minor, [for example]. It might be a history major with a finance minor, or an art history major with a design minor or engineering minor.”
While much has been written here about the value of modern-day higher education degrees, it should be noted that there are millions of high-paying jobs that do not require a college degree, such as in the United States manufacturing sector and, separately, the trades, including plumbers, for instance. New Jersey Business magazine has previously explored the fact that many jobs erroneously believed to have been off-shored to foreign countries are in fact remaining unfilled by companies that simply cannot locate enough trained workers, and that high school guidance counselors often fail to alert students to such opportunities.
With college affordability arguably a national obsession, it should also be stated that county colleges have increasingly absorbed exceptional students who do not possess the funds to attend four-year higher education institutions for their entire college careers. These students instead complete their associate’s degrees and then transfer to four-year colleges and universities for the final two years. Notably, Rowan College at Burlington County allows students to attend for three years, and then, during their fourth year, they remain at the same Mount Laurel campus, but are matriculated as students at Rowan University and graduate with a bachelor’s degree from – and listing – the latter institution. The total cost for all four years is approximately $25,000, a sliver of the perhaps $200,000 that might be spent at some private, four-year higher education institutions. Paul Drayton, president, Rowan College at Burlington County, says, “It really provides a clear, concise pathway for students in the STEM fields, liberal arts, and the health sciences field. [Our $25,000 program] has really been a game-changer here in the state of New Jersey.”
Tuition money aside, it was Napoleon Hill who immortally wrote in his 1928 unabridged masterpiece, “The Law of Success,” that, “One of the most startling facts brought to light by those 16,000 analyses [of people] was the discovery that the ninety-five per cent who were classed as failures were in that class because they had no definite chief aim in life, while the five per cent constituting the successful ones not only had purposes that were definite, but they had, also, definite plans for the attainment of their purposes. Another important fact disclosed by these analyses was that the ninety-five per cent constituting the failures were engaged in work which they did not like, while the five per cent constituting the successful ones were doing that which they liked best. It is doubtful whether a person could be a failure while engaged in work which he liked best.”
While jobs in healthcare and technology remain in high demand, Monmouth University notes there are also growing specialty areas in today’s economy for professionals with advanced degrees.
“For those focused on business leadership, MBA degrees are still the gold standard,” states Dr. Susan Forquer Gupta, MBA program director. “At Monmouth University’s Leon Hess Business School, students can choose from traditional and accelerated formats and can select a concentration in accounting, finance, management, marketing and real estate; or they can customize the MBA by choosing graduate elective courses that provide the skills they find to be career critical game changers, e.g. data analytics, software programming, or digital/social media.
Monmouth’s Masters of Science in Information Systems is a program that melds management, computer science, and software engineering to prepare graduate students for a leadership role in the IT sector. “Unlike other programs,” says Dr. Jiacun Wang, MSIS program director, “Monmouth truly integrates both the business and software development disciplines, with a choice of technology or management tracks.”
While most think of anthropology as a study of the past, it’s very much a part of our future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 19 percent growth in anthropology-related jobs from 2012-2022. Many of those opportunities are in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and geospatial technologies, one of the fastest growing sectors in the global economy. “From real estate developers and environmental firms to some of the world’s largest companies, anthropologists with graduate degrees are in high demand,” says Dr. Richard Veit, chair of the Department of History and Anthropology. “Microsoft is the world’s second largest employer of anthropologists,” Veit adds.