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Old 06-09-2014, 10:11 AM   #21
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Liberal arts and STEM are not mutually exclusive. I have a BA in Computer Science from a small liberal arts college. <snip> And the liberal arts education made me much more adaptable/flexible than others I worked with who specialized from day 1.
I was a Math major and when I mentioned to a friend who was in Engineering that I was considering a switch to Engineering, he said, "well, then you've just used up all of your electives". I was a freshman.

I stuck with Math and was glad I did. My college education also included a wonderful one-year sequence on Music Appreciation, which was an easy A, but also taught by a professor who LOVED all kinds of music and wanted to share it, and 2 years of German. I kept up the German and it came in very handy in my personal travels and also when my employer was acquired by a company based on Zurich in 2006. My Swiss colleagues all spoke excellent English but understanding German helped me grasp the occasional side discussions in German and navigate when on my own. I was really happy to be able to take a sprinkling of classes outside my major discipline.
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Old 06-09-2014, 10:47 AM   #22
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Liberal arts and STEM are not mutually exclusive. I have a BA in Computer Science from a small liberal arts college. I didn't get the same depth in my major as I could have gotten from an engineering school, but I got that in grad school. And the liberal arts education made me much more adaptable/flexible than others I worked with who specialized from day 1. As a result, I survived many rounds of layoffs when my company was in turmoil, was employed continuously, and therefore able save $ and pull the plug early.

Flexibility and adaptability are keys in today's job market, since entire industries can appear or disappear within a very short time.
+1

My degree, to give its full title, is "BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences with a Concentration in Physics". I was a couple of physics classes short of the regular Physics major at Illinois, but was able to take a wonderful variety of classes outside the sciences. Several have provided wonderful starting points for pleasure and business skills over the last 33 years.
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Old 06-09-2014, 11:05 AM   #23
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I think the best part of your story is that you were able to provide an education for your kids without them graduating with significant debt.

As to the discussion on the value of a liberal arts degree? Any college degree has some value and there are many jobs where the employer wants to see a bachelor's degree (or higher). Not because the job requires the specific degree knowledge, but it is an indicator that the applicant can work through a structured program with an end goal.

The financial payback of liberal arts degree is something that each person has to evaluate and make the decision if that is worth it. I was always good at math and science, so becoming an engineer was natural choice for me. I tend to encourage the STEM majors to any younger person or parent that asks my opinion.
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Old 06-09-2014, 12:10 PM   #24
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There are really two issues here.

The first seems to be whether people should major in liberal arts or STEM. Every time I read that kind of discussion, I have an issue with most discussions as it seems to implicitly assume that everyone has the same capabilities in all subjects and seems to assume that everyone has the same interests.

That is for some kids asking if they should, say, be an engineer or should get a degree in English is not a whole lot different from asking if I should be major league baseball player or an Oscar winning director. Those aren't real choices for me as I don't have the capability of doing either one.

More to the point, there are plenty of kids who don't have the capability of being an engineer but do have the capability of earning an English degree -- and vice versa.

And, some could struggle their way to a STEM degree and would be, at best, mediocre. My son is a CS major and I think his first 2 semesters of programming courses were full of kids whose parents had told them to major in CS. That might be why over half the students ended up dropping the classes.

Also, personal interest does play a part. I am not saying that people shouldn't pay attention to how they will earn a living with their degree. I do think they should pay attention to it. However, I also don't advocate that people major in subjects that they seriously dislike and where they will be miserable for their career. I would have been absolutely miserable in a STEM career.

For the second part of the OP's post dealing with private universities, I think that is largely an economic issue based upon what you value and what you can afford. I don't value it so it wasn't what I chose to spend money on, but I can see others feeling differently depending on location, major, economics, etc.
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Old 06-09-2014, 12:20 PM   #25
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And, some could struggle their way to a STEM degree and would be, at best, mediocre. My son is a CS major and I think his first 2 semesters of programming courses were full of kids whose parents had told them to major in CS. That might be why over half the students ended up dropping the classes.
I agree with that- what went through my head while reading this discussion was my feelings about Chemistry. Right now I'm trying to learn some geology before DH and I head to Alaska again and I just can't get into the chemistry part of it. I'm intelligent and I love learning, but just don't like that subject. Getting a degree in it would have been like trying to switch form being right-handed to being left-handed- a constant struggle.

While it's simplistic to assume that you'll automatically get rich if you "follow your passions", life is too short to go into something you don't like just for the money.
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Old 06-09-2014, 01:55 PM   #26
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Frankly, pushing a kid into engineering when their heart isn't in it is a recipe for a bunch of failed classes and extra student loan debt.

The kid has to have both the aptitude and desire to slog through it. If either of those is missing, they are almost guarrenteed to fail out.

Heck, a pretty large portion of the kids with the aptitude and desire fail out.
And worse, what if we were living in a world engineered by people who really had no aptitude for it or pride or passion in their work but felt they had to get that ROI on a degree so struggled through? Oops, that building just fell over. Oops, that bridge just collapsed. Oops, my tires are four different sizes but it's okay because my car stopped starting after two months.
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Old 06-09-2014, 03:30 PM   #27
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At the U of Minn, there was a GPA requirement for each engineering major at the start of the 3rd year. So you would need a 2.7 to start the "upper division" classes for Mech Engineering, or a 2.5 for EE, etc. They used it to control the number of applicants to the various majors. If a major got more or less popular, they would raise or lower the GPA requirement to get the number of students they had room for.

I remember that a lot of engineering students that were passing with C's but couldn't meet that GPA requirement ended up in Economics. It was one of the majors that had requirements that kept all of the Calculus from being wasted.

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They say 50%, and at my university, that was true. When I think of my classmates in engineering, about 10% just quit college. The other 40% switched majors. Many went into education, although a few went into business and liberal arts. Two of my friends are very successful in business now. One runs his own landscaping business, the other is a manager at a manufacturing plant.

And then there are those who make it through to the working world and flame out there. The #1 reason I see that happen is lack of communication skills. STEM is great, but if you are at a college that somehow allows you to never have to write a paper or express yourself in written and spoken thought, you are sunk. Seen that a few times.
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Old 06-09-2014, 04:17 PM   #28
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While it's simplistic to assume that you'll automatically get rich if you "follow your passions", life is too short to go into something you don't like just for the money.
I will also add the corollary (made up by me ):

"Life is too long to do something you love that won't pay the bills"

I agree that the kid has to do something they like and interested in. However it is important to understand consequences of decisions to get a degree in a major with poor employment prospects and poor future earning potential. Most of use on E-R.org are able to do it because we do have sufficient income to provide enough for savings and ability to build up an amount that can support our desired lifestyle in retirement. Even LBYM can be tough if you barely make enough to survive.
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Old 06-09-2014, 05:43 PM   #29
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Could you elaborate some on the degree to which the college provided access to jobs for graduates in terms of things like internships, career advisory/placement activities such as job fairs and corporate visits, networking with alumni, etc.? My observation is that these become especially important outside of the non-STEM majors, and it is important for a school to be strong in these areas and for students to take advantage of them.
So, this is one of the areas where I think the colleges fell short. While both schools had a career center where the kids could go and research internships, get lists of alumni, get help with updating a resume', etc. for the most part, the schools were not particularly successful as acting an an intermediary in terms "connecting" the kids to strong employment opportunities. One of my children was able to find a couple of opportunities for summer internships, and worked (unpaid) at a museum and a newspaper. He found both of these opportunities independently of the school. In terms of their post graduate employment, same story--neither got a job via a school "job fair" or such. They both basically did a bunch of searching on-line.

Maybe I had greater expectations of the schools' services than what was realistic.
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Old 06-09-2014, 05:47 PM   #30
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I doubt many will say a liberal arts degree is literally useless. Absolute zero is a very low bar to clear. The questions are whether the same value can be obtained by spending less or whether they will get more value if they studied something else or somewhere else with the same education budget.

"Useless" was certainly a silly choice of wording. But, as you say, I think there is a significant body of people who believe that a liberal arts degree has limited economic worth. I was just trying to express that the kids did better than what I expected in terms of their employment outcomes.
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Old 06-09-2014, 05:57 PM   #31
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I am glad the Liberal Arts degrees worked out for your family, but most parents in the U.S. don't have enough saved for retirement let alone a spare $100K per kid to spend on college -

A Look at Household Net Worth and Household Income By Age Group from the 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances

Student debt in the U.S. is at $1.2 trillion (trillion with a T). A liberal arts degree paid for with loans and a poor ROI is not a good financial investment for most students, and families not needing loans and $100K+ in savings to spend per kid on college may want a better ROI for that kind of money.
So, first, we certainly have been fortunate. Our family income while not top 1% (probably not even top 5%) has allowed us to provide for our kids by paying for their college. Obviously, we accumulated funds over 18+ years of saving/investing, so like many of the folks on this board, it was a long haul to save up the necessary capital to pay for school. Nonetheless, I do agree that what were able to achieve is beyond the means of many families. While our "threshold" for paying for school may have been different than many families, we did, however, have a limit. I felt it was unwise for us (or the kids) to go into debt to get their BAs--I probably would have felt that way even if they had studied engineering, computer science, etc. As I mentioned, the kids got into some very fine schools where they got no merit based aid----would have been $200K to go there (per child) for 4 years. I was personally can't see sending that for any degree---STEM or otherwise.
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Old 06-09-2014, 06:06 PM   #32
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Now there are tons of mediocre schools and tons of people with touchy-feely degrees and employers can be a lot more picky. I'm happy to read about the OP's kids but I think they're exceptional. If I had a child who wanted to go for a non-STEM major I'd make sure he/she had a good idea of what they might be able to do with it and what compensation that might entail.
Of course my kids are exceptional--they are my kids!
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Old 06-09-2014, 09:26 PM   #33
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...
So, on the whole, I was pretty happy how things worked out. While they were in school, I was honestly, a bit dubious that they would be able to find work with just their BAs in "touchy feely" fields, but I was apparently wrong. So, I am not yet ready to pile on and say a liberal arts degree is useless---kind of gives me some hope that liberal arts are still viable.
Sounds good to me. There are many roads to Dublin.

I think some of the 'pile on' you refer to is more along the lines of some reports of students racking up many $$$ in debt, and earning a degree in a field with limited job prospects (and maybe not getting good grades along the way), and then 'moaning' about all this student debt and no job offers.

I'm not sure what kind of jobs your kids got, but certainly one of the major (the major?) skills to take away from any education is to learn how to learn.

When unemployment was lower, a BA in anything was seen as a sign that a person could stick to a goal and achieve it, so the job may have little to do with the degree. In today's market, not so much.

At any rate, sounds like the kids are on a good path, and that's always a good thing (and I'm fortunate to know the feeling!)!

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Old 06-10-2014, 06:40 AM   #34
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I started off on the road to an engineering degree, but then dropped out. Later went back and got a BA in business and was a business owner for 20 years after that. We employed several people with engineering degrees that were great at engineering, but generally lacked communication and business skills. I had the communication and business skills, but lacked the higher level engineering knowledge. IMO, a person with degrees in both engineering and liberal arts such as business would be a great asset to an engineering firm. The good thing about liberal arts degrees is that they can be used in a wider variety of professions than those with engineering degrees. The good thing about engineering degrees is that its easier to find a job and make more money than those with liberal arts degrees.

Sound's like OP's kids are on the right track. The toughest part after college is just finding a decent job.
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Old 06-10-2014, 08:44 AM   #35
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There will always be a place for non-STEM majors, even with companies heavy with STEM backgrounds. The CEO of COMED (Commonwealth Edison), formerly with Motorola, majored in theater and worked in retail until going to law school.

And congrats to the OP's two kids and their gainful employment!
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Old 06-10-2014, 09:34 AM   #36
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Reflections on 60 years of happiness, based on four years of a liberal arts education. A different time, a different world where the premium was on personal satisfaction more so than financial expectations. As best I can recall, these are the disciplines that were part of my own experience.

ARMY ROTC
Psychology (major) Abnormal Psych
German (minor)
Calculus
Biology
World History
French
Astronomy
Music
Comparative Religions
Art
Creative Writing
Philosophy
Sociology
Physics... (one short semester)
Chemistry
..............................................
And along the way, because of the cultural atmosphere, some ventures into Anthropology, Paleontology (Maine coast shell heaps), chorus, sailing, and... four hours of swimming 6 days a week (year round). All tied in to being in a Greek Letter Fraternity for meals, entertainment, and hanging. This tempered with working in the kitchen as a dishwasher, three meals a day for 50 'brothers' every other week... and a three hour a week job of polishing brass in the museum.

Overall, the atmosphere of learning was such that there was a rub off from other students that teased one into dipping in to unknown waters. Fond memories of hours spent with headphones in the music lab... parsing symphonies or using the Interpreter's Bible to find meaning from four language translations. 2 AM trips to the top of the physics building in temperatures that were 10 below zero... to use the 12 inch reflecting telescope and track a variable star. Classical music concerts, lectures from world renown authors and experts and study cubicles in the corners of a gothic library.

There is something about the sense of history that pervades a college that has been around since 1794. One absorbs the biographies of famous persons and "must reads" of their writings... Hawthorne, Longfellow, Adm Peary and MacMillan, Franklin Pierce... and hmmm... Alfred Kinsey.

One small point that I didn't appreciate at the time. My roommate's family owned the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, and we would study our ROTC Field Manuals together, in front of the Franklin Fireplace and sitting at the secretary where Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

It was a point in time... a turning point, from the vestigial Victorian era, to a more integrated world. Vance Packard and "The Hidden Persuaders", Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye", and Tom Lehrer. Just as important, was that those years were the pivot point for drugs. As far as I know, except for a very few apocryphal stories about peyote and mescaline, the "drug" of choice was alcohol. Timothy Leary was still in the experimental stage, Edgar Allan Poe was a historical anomaly. Sex, language, theater and TV were in the older morality framework... man to man, but never man to woman. Politics and political office was respected.

Off topic of current Liberal Arts experience, but a memory trigger of a very pleasant time of life.
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Old 06-10-2014, 09:46 AM   #37
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There will always be a place for non-STEM majors, even with companies heavy with STEM backgrounds.
Reminds me of a college math professor of mine who tried to motivate me to change majors from liberal arts and humanities to math or engineering. His favorite line was "I'll come by and buy a hat from you when you're working in the men's department at ...". It worked out differently.

My view, FWIW, is that core skills, including critical thinking, effective communication and strong reasoning, will help anyone get ahead no matter what they choose to study.
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Old 06-11-2014, 10:01 PM   #38
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Reminds me of a college math professor of mine who tried to motivate me to change majors from liberal arts and humanities to math or engineering. His favorite line was "I'll come by and buy a hat from you when you're working in the men's department at ...". It worked out differently.

My view, FWIW, is that core skills, including critical thinking, effective communication and strong reasoning, will help anyone get ahead no matter what they choose to study.
If he was a statistics professor, he would have been, on average, correct to try to persuade you to switch to STEM.
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Old 06-11-2014, 11:27 PM   #39
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I went to a very good liberal arts college and majored in Religion. I was interested in it and couldn't decide on anything else. Later I went back and got a grad degree in education and have worked at a education related nonprofit for 30 years. I loved my college and they taught me to write, to strive towards ethical behavior, personal responsibility and to come out of my shell.

My son majored in Latin and taught school for awhile. But then he taught himself Java and other computer programming languages and he has a great job as a software architect working for a major medical software company. He makes more that my husband and I together. He's so well rounded because he took so many different classes, which helps him on his team.

So, I think there is great value in a liberal arts education, especially for a motivated person.
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Old 06-12-2014, 08:24 AM   #40
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I have a good friend that worked for one of the major management consulting Businesses. New hires crunched computer code. He did interviewing for new hires in his last few years there. He told me their favorite place to hire was not the STEM graduates of the major colleges, but my alma mater, a small liberal arts school. He said the music and philosophy majors worked out best. He explained it as his company could teach the people how to program, but the school prepared them how to think critically and communicate.
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