Editorial: Humanities must not fall by wayside

A diploma from an esteemed university used to mean something.

It was something that many graduates proudly hung on their walls or put on their desks at their new businesses.

But now, that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least for some degrees.

A study published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences recently showed that fewer students than ever are earning degrees in humanities fields — just 6.1 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 2014. In a difficult job market, many recent graduates have trouble finding jobs despite the fresh diplomas they were just handed.

It used to be that a graduate showed potential employers his or her degree and it almost guaranteed them a job. But now, it seems an undergraduate degree outside of STEM fields carries hardly any more weight than a high school diploma.

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The college financial system needs to be restructured. Tuition shouldn’t be so expensive that smart people can’t go to school, especially to their state schools, and study humanities or the arts.

Students cannot justify studying those fields when entry-level jobs post-college don’t garner enough money to efficiently pay back their loans.

Parents usually aren’t happy with that plan either. After spending four years on campus, many of today’s graduates return home and leave parents wondering what they just spent over $100,000 on. Many students could earn more than the cost of tuition by working a day job for those four years instead of attending college.

Outside of financial concerns, cultural stigmas about majoring in humanities continue to grow. Popular public figures speak every day about the importance of STEM fields, encouraging more students to develop technical skills for the technological future.

Many think that a degree in humanities isn’t worth anything — students who major in engineering or chemistry have been encouraged to believe they study more important concepts and ideas.

But society still needs those with a passion for humanities. We need social scientists specializing in race and gender issues to help navigate the murky waters of tomorrow’s societal conflicts. We need those majoring in religion or language to help us better understand and sympathize with foreign cultures.

A college education should be accessible to everyone, including those who want to specialize in those fields. But the current system makes financial justification of a humanities degree difficult for anyone who has to take out loans to pay for his or her education.

However it can be done, lowering the cost of tuition or the interest rates on loans would allow students to choose their majors unburdened by financial or societal pressures and would not diminish a field of study that still has value in the future.