15 States Incentivizing STEM Degrees as Humanities Struggle

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An increasing number of states across the country are beginning to steer college students away from the humanities and rewarding institutions for students who graduate with a degree in fields considered to be important to the economy.

Expressing concerns over rising tuition costs, increasing student loan debt and a shortage of skilled workers, states across the country are pushing for public colleges and universities to churn out more graduates who are specialized in areas of current importance.

The National Conference of State Legislatures states that currently at least 15 states offer a bonus or premium for students who participate in particular degree programs.

“There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors, there just will,” Mr. Bevin, a Republican, said after announcing his spending plan. “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so; they’re just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be, for example.”

Most recent to join the movement is Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who last month suggested that students who major in French literature should not benefit from state funding to help pay for their college education.

However, some argue that incentivizing certain majors such as engineering will hurt the standards of the program and result in less-able workers.  In addition, Neeta Patwari writes for The Indiana Daily Student that most students already know what they would like to major in high school, and that many who do go into one of the sciences change their minds.  Instead, she suggests elementary and middle schools focus on science.

While Republicans tend to consider a liberal arts education to be a frivolity that taxpayers should not be required to contribute to, Democrats suggest that there should be better alignment between the job market and education and training, writes Patricia Cohen for The New York Times.

A prime example of this is the Obama administration’s recent move to rate the 7,000 colleges and universities across the country on post-graduation earnings as well as measures like completion rates and student loan debt.

Anthony Carnevale, a Georgetown University professor who runs the Center on Education and the Workforce, suggests that more information should be made available to students concerning employment and wage prospects prior to deciding on a major:

“We don’t want to take away Shakespeare. We’re just talking about helping people make good decisions,” he said. “You can’t be a lifelong learner if you’re not a lifelong earner.”

Carnevale went on to say that a graduate who holds a higher-earning degree has the potential to earn up to $4 million more over the course of their lifetime than other college graduates.  Most of the top-earners in liberal arts fields only make as much as the bottom tier of STEM graduates, those who hold a degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  Meanwhile, others will earn less than those who hold a high school degree with vocational skills, such as welders or mechanics.

A salary survey recently introduced by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers predicts that STEM graduates will hold the highest overall average salaries in 2016.

While new engineers are projected to earn an average salary of almost $65,000 per year, the average salary of an individual who holds a degree in the humanities will be close to $46,065.