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We Need More Humanities Majors

Publication Date: 
July 30, 2013
Source: 
The Washington Post Innovations
Author: 
Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen

Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, provided data used by Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen of The Washington Post Innovations about the percentage of technology and engineering company founders who hold degrees in STEM fields and the percentage who graduated with a combination of liberal arts, health-care and business degrees.

It has become oddly fashionable to look down on the humanities over the last few decades. Today’s students are being told that studying the classics of English literature, the history of the twentieth century, or the ethics of privacy are a fun but useless luxury. To best prioritize our scarce education resources, we ought instead to focus on technical subjects such as math and engineering.

This short-term market logic doesn’t work across the thirty-or-so-year horizon of a full career. A generation ago, lawyers made more money than investment bankers. Today, we have too many law graduates (though there appears to be data to support it’s still worth the money) and the investment banks complain about a lack of talent. It is basically impossible to project that sort of thing into the far future.

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One might think that most people starting out or running tech companies in the heart Silicon Valley would be from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Not so. Vivek Wadhwa, a columnist for The Washington Post’s Innovations section and a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, found that 47 percent of the 652 technology and engineering company founders surveyed held terminal degrees in the STEM fields, with 37 percent of those degrees being in either engineering or computer technology and 2 percent in mathematics. The rest graduated with a healthy combination of liberal arts, health-care and business degrees.