When I graduated from Reed, I applied for a job in San Francisco. I needed work that paid well because I was saving for my boat passage to England to join my fiancé. My first interview was with a company, the name of which I have forgotten, but I remember the interview was brief. The man reviewing my credentials, leaned across his desk and looked dubious. “A philosophy major? What do you plan to do with that?”
I didn’t hesitate. “Think,” I replied.
The interview ended in a failure but that didn’t make me regret my studies. I’d entered Reed relatively unshaped as a freshmen and left with the capacity to embrace ideas both familiar and foreign. That mental flexibility proved to be worth a king’s ransom, so I wasn’t surprised by data to that effect from an article in Money Magazine. (“Liberal Arts, Liberal Paychecks,” by Kim Clark, Money Magazine, September 2016 pg. 28-29)
Kim Clark reported that though the salaries of graduates from liberal arts schools begin on a par with graduates from other institution, they advanced sooner and “often move on to six figure jobs within 15 years.” (Ibid pg. 28.) One business executive speculated the reason for the disparity. Liberal arts graduates “communicate clearly, think strategically and [are] analytical problem solver[s].” (Ibid pg 28.)
Today’s Millennials, saddled with enormous debt after graduation, feel their goals have to be practical. The sooner they earn a decent salary, the sooner they get out of debt, which is why they crowd into STEM studies. Their narrow focus may make them experts in a specific field, but it can deprive them of their ability to detect synergies across different fields where the future resides.
Being practical proves to be a handicap on the financial level as well. “Millennials will have the biggest retirement –savings burdens in history due to longer life spans.” ((Cash Is King for Millennials. Bad Call,” by Martha C. White, Money Magazine, September 2016, pg. 16.) Yet the majority distrust banks and according to a recent survey by Bankrate.com, 32% of respondents preferred to keep their money in cash. Refusing to accept risk could leave them in a financial hole.
Scholars of Proust and Plato escape becoming products of an education that is too narrow and too rigid. The realm of ideas admits any possibility, so it’s no surprise liberal arts students are quick to learn how to fly.