Liberal arts students need persistence in job search

Tom Lopez

To some, graduating with a liberal arts degree means one thing — unemployment. However, many liberal arts departments say the truth is far from the perception: A liberal education actually serves to broaden opportunities for students.
The skills that students develop in these programs, liberal arts departments say, will prepare them for the job marketplace of the future.
“Look at the bigger picture, the trends of the 21st century,” said Lisa Stotlar, the associate director of the Office for Special Learning Opportunities. “Liberal arts degrees are going to be more marketable than ever.”
She said that one of the strengths of a liberal education is its versatility. “Skills such as reasoning, creative thinking, and analytical and communication skills are transferable qualities that can be applicable in any kind of work,” Stotlar said.
In particular, the fine arts are a daunting field, because of fierce competition for few positions and opportunities. However, many departments in the fine arts believe that such degrees open doors for students.
“The opportunities are endless,” said Sherry Wagner, managing director of the theatre arts and dance department. “One of the unique things about a theater degree is that it offers students a lot of possibilities. It doesn’t confine students to one category.”
The strengths of these programs are the variety of options they offer to students, said Martin Gwinup, the director of undergraduate studies in the theatre department. However, he cautions students about the difficulties in finding a job on the stage or behind the camera. Gwinup estimated that unemployment rates in actors’ unions can range from 75 to 95 percent. He said students often graduate with one idea of their future, but often apply their theatrical skills to other media.
“There are a lot of different options you can branch into,” he said. However, he added that students can be successful in the more “glamorous” aspects of theater if they are persistent. “If a student has the talent, and the drive, then I think he or she will be successful,” he said.
The success of liberal arts degrees, however, doesn’t seem to be reflected in earnings. According to a 1995 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earnings of liberal arts graduates tend to be lower than graduates with science, business and professional degrees. The survey, of median earnings of individuals between 25 and 34 years old, reports that the median earnings of English graduates were more than ten thousand dollars lower than the overall median, and almost twenty thousand dollars less than graduates with an engineering degree.
Most departments acknowledge that there is some risk in pursuing a career in the liberal arts. Diana Eicher, studio coordinator of the Coffman Art Museum, said that the strengths of an art degree lie in combining it with another discipline. “It’s important not to be narrow,” she said. “Art students would be smart to combine an art degree with other things so that they can apply it to the real world.”
However, Eicher added that it is also important for aspiring artists not to become discouraged if they are pursuing their dreams. “You have to be persistent about it, and not settle for anything,” she said. “You can get a job in the art community if you really want it.”
Students should be aware of the difficulties of finding a job in the fine arts, said Robert Bitzan, a public relations director at the Weisman Art Museum and a University alumnus. However, he said that degrees broaden students’ horizons and present opportunities within the art community.
“The sad fact is that for every one position in a symphony orchestra there are 100 to 200 applicants,” he said. “However, a lot of times people who seek a career as a professional artist find that they can stay within the realm of art in an administrative or technical capacity.”
Departments in other areas of the liberal arts say that the strengths of a degree from their programs are the skills that students can develop and apply to a variety of situations.
Richard Leppert, chairman of the cultural studies and comparative literature department, said that liberal arts degrees not only enhance studies in a variety of other fields such as medicine and law, but also help students develop skills that are important for many professions. “I can’t name one student who comes out of the cultural studies and comparative literature program that can’t get a job,” he said.