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January 22, 2014

Liberal arts majors earn more than professional majors during that time in their lives when they make the most money per year. That’s according to a new report out Wednesday from the Association of American Colleges and Universities whose findings, educators say, fly in the face of today’s popular perception. 

It’s a massive survey that crunches Census data and looks at liberal arts graduates at every point in their careers, "which jobs they're going into, how much money they’re making, what the employment rates are,” said Debra Humphreys, who co-authored the report. 

In a phone interview, Humphreys said these findings counter certain stereotypes at a time when students are increasingly concerned about the value and quality of college degrees.

“The pathway from college to career success is more of a marathon than a sprint,” Humphreys said.

Humanities and social science majors, it turns out, make slightly less upon graduation, but at their peak earning ages – between 56 and 60 years old – they actually earn about $2,000 more than those who majored in specific professions.

The study also details how humanities majors tend to join educational and social service professions.

Some economists have argued liberal arts colleges are doing a horrible job in preparing students for the job market while saddling them with debt. 

"We are sending a lot of people down the primrose path," said Richard Vedder, who directs the Center for Affordability and Productivity at Ohio State. "We’re getting their expectations high that they will have a ticket to a middle-class life, graduating from college, no matter what they do in college, and that’s simply not true.” 

Carol Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, strongly disagrees. 

"Recent attacks on the liberal arts by ill-informed commentators and policy makers have painted a misleading picture of the value of the liberal arts to individuals and our communities," Schneider said.

Read highlights of the report here.

confronting cost, higher ed, liberal arts

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