Letter to the Editor: Major Salaries not Straightforward

by Barbara Will | 1/30/20 2:15am

Re: “Dartmouth majors yield wide range of salaries, per federal data” (Jan. 21, 2020): The Dartmouth’s Jan. 21 analysis of the correlation between undergraduate majors and post-graduate salaries could have told a bigger story. 

While the article presented a strongly positive case for majoring in computer science, engineering and other fields that might allow students to pay off debt after graduation, it never mentioned studies suggesting the long-term economic payoff of majoring in non-STEM fields. A recent New York Times article titled “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure,” suggests that by the age of 40, students who majored in a field like history are making as much as — or even more than — their peers who majored in computer science. Majors that allow students to cultivate “soft skills” vital to a rapidly changing workplace — skills like strong written communication, verbal acuity and ability to think about unintended consequences — are best prepared to navigate a future where they may change jobs as many as four times over their lifetime.

At the end of the day, though, it’s the Dartmouth degree — rather than the choice of major — that matters. According to a recent Georgetown University public policy analysis, students from liberal arts colleges like Dartmouth have a greater lifetime return on their investment, regardless of major, than students at schools with strong pre-professional programs. By narrowly focusing on immediate post-graduate salaries of computer science, engineering and other supposedly pre-professional majors, The Dartmouth’s article lost a fine opportunity to consider the short- versus long-term implications of a college major. In so doing, it perpetuated the myth that at Dartmouth only certain undergraduate majors count.

Barbara Will is an English professor and Associate Dean of the Arts and Humanities.

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