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University Faculty Members Respond to Nexus’ ‘Least Useful Majors’ Report

To the editors of the Daily Nexus:

We would like to take a minute and respond to the May 9 article entitled “UCSB’s Least Useful Majors.” The title of this article, as well as its reliance on poorly researched data (drawn from a Newsweek Tumblr post), presents a skewed picture of the value of a liberal arts education today, despite the authors’ attempt to interview faculty and students affiliated with each department mentioned.

The University of California system is well respected throughout the world for the quality of its humanities and fine arts programs — programs which offer degrees that are not, as your article implies, “useless,” but which provide students with a broad education leading to exciting careers not only in the arts fields, but also to careers in a spectrum of other fields. Large and small companies in all industries report that the qualities they look for most in new employees are creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and risk-taking. These are all skills fostered by study in these “useless” fields.

According to a recent National Endowment for the Arts study entitled “Artist Employment Projections through 2018,” artist occupations are also forecast to increase by 11 percent in this timeframe, compared with an overall increase in the labor force of 10 percent. Arts workers are twice as likely as other U.S. workers to have college degrees, a trend that may provide some advantage to artists in the U.S. economy, which increasingly requires workers to have at least some college-level education. Artist occupations with some of the highest projected growth rates, according to the study, are museum technicians and conservators (26 percent), curators (23 percent) and multimedia artists and animators (14 percent).

UCSB recently participated in a national survey of college arts and humanities graduates (SNAAP, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project), which measures the following:

• satisfaction with curricular and extracurricular experiences

• current and past education and employment

• relevance of arts training to work and further education

• types of art practiced and how often

• support and resource needs following graduation

• experiences as teachers

• income and support, student debt and other financial issues

According to SNAAP results, arts graduates experience relatively low rates of unemployment — only 6 percent — and people who work in the arts report some of the highest levels of job satisfaction among all occupations. The study also found that arts graduates gained employment quickly upon graduation, with 83 percent of graduates finding work within the first year of obtaining their degree, while another 12 percent went on to pursue additional higher education.

Income levels in arts majors are also very competitive: the median annual income in 2010 for UC arts grads was $30,000 immediately upon graduation; $50,000 within 10 years of graduation, with that number steadily increasing as students moved away from their college years and into the mid-point of their careers. Students who had graduated with arts majors in the 1995 cohort reported a median household income of $100,000.

We hope that by providing this information we can generate some real dialogue about the value of education at UCSB, and encourage you to explore the statistics and testimonies gathered in both the SNAAP survey and by the National Endowment for the Arts — all of which clearly belie the myth of the arts being “useless” at UCSB.



– Ellen Anderson, Director, Isla Vista Arts

– Professor Paul Berkowitz, Chair, Music Department, UCSB

– Professor Ann Bermingham, Director, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center

– Professor Laurie Monahan, Director, Arts Research Initiative, Department of History of Art and Architecture

– Professor Jane Mulfinger, Chair, Art Department

– Professor Marko Peljhan, co-Director, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, Vice Chair Media Arts and Technology

– Holly Unruh, Associate Director, UC Institute for Research in the Arts

– Professor Cristina Venegas, Chair, Film and Media Studies

– Professor Kim Yasuda, co-Director, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, Department of Art

– Emily Zinn, Associate Director, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center

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3 Responses to University Faculty Members Respond to Nexus’ ‘Least Useful Majors’ Report

  1. Robert Cothern

    August 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Sylvia Porter’s “Money Book”, in the 1970’s, said that Humanities majors were the happiest of all majors after graduation but the least job motivated. It said that while that accounting majors were the most job motivated, they were the least happy. A federal employment office in the 1970’s said that the federal government needed more soil scientists. Several years ago someone commented that government grants have shifted from going mostly to physics to biology. Lights seem to upset biorhythms, but the UC motto, Let there be light, seems to justify them.

  2. Charles Munger

    May 18, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Any evaluation of the “usefulness” of a major is silly without considering opportunity cost.

    Also, looking at median household income is a silly way to measure this, as people who got degrees in 1995 (nearly 20 years ago) are probably married, and in many marriages one spouse earns considerably more than the other – if the other is even working. Telling students that their liberal arts degree will empower them to be a stay at home housewife or house husband is not likely to inspire much confidence in the value of their major.

    A UCSB alumni survey from 2008 also paints a very different picture of earning power:

    Letters & Science graduates report less adequate job preparation than those from Engineering or Creative Studies – 57% were prepared “very well” or “more than adequately” at UCSB, compared to 88% of the graduates from Engineering and 100% from Creative Studies. (page 22)

    B.S. degree recipients report higher salaries on average, compared to B.A. degree recipients ($50,000 vs. $33,800) (page 23)

    Career path satisfaction is more common among B.S. degree recipients (76% satisfied) than B.A. recipients (59%). (page 29)

    College of Creative Studies graduates are more likely to say they would take the same major – 92% vs. 80% of Engineering alumni and 68% of Letters & Science alumni. (page 39)

    B.A. recipients are more likely to indicate a preference for a different major – 20% would not repeat their same major vs. 11% of B.S. recipients. (page 39)

    College of Engineering alumni seem to be more satisfied than students from Letters & Science with these aspects:
    − Overall social experience (96% satisfied vs. 89% in L&S)
    − Ability to get into a major that you want (96% satisfied vs. 88% in L&S)
    − Availability of faculty outside of class (96% satisfied vs. 80% in L&S)
    − Class size (83% satisfied vs. 65% in L&S)
    − Academic advising by department advisors & staff (79% satisfied vs. 63% in L&S)
    − Academic advising by faculty (79% satisfied vs. 62% in L&S)
    − Academic advising by college advisors (72% satisfied vs. 55% in L&S)
    − University’s concern for each student as an individual (60% satisfied vs. 43% in L&S)
    (page 45)


    Every UCSB student considering one of those “useless” majors should be required to read the results of that survey before committing to a field of study. The one statistic that really sticks out is the $50,000 vs $33,800 salary after graduation – according to the figure stated in this article, that implies that the average arts graduate takes up to 10 years to reach the earning power a student with a BS has the day they graduate.

    With tuition as high as it now is, there simply is no excuse for students taking on a mountain of debt to get a degree which doesn’t entitle them to a significantly better paying job than if they never went to college at all (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=77). In fact, if you include the annual payments on student loans, their net income may be lower than if they simply skipped college and worked for 4 years.

    • Opinion Editor

      May 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      Hey Charles,

      It’s evident you feel very strongly about the article and have clearly done some research. Write a letter to the editor if you are interested in having your comment in print.

      Opinion Ladies: Liv and Tiare