Liberal arts graduates high in demand for workforce

Midwestern employers plan to hire 9.8 percent more college graduates from the 2005-06 school year than they did from 2004-05, according to a new study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The results let seniors like Lindsay Steinberg breath a sigh of relief as they enter the job market soon after graduating on May 20.

Jeanne Skoug, director of career services, said UW-Eau Claire graduates usually enjoy a high post-graduate employment rate, which has risen to 98 percent for the 2004 to 2005 school year.

The NACE report found communication skills were the most important quality employers looked for, but they are most often disappointed with the competence of college graduates in this sphere. Some experts say this is where a liberal arts graduate has the advantage.

“They need people in the workplace who can think, know how to do research, know how to speak and write coherently and have skills working with and leading other people,” said Don Christian, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Christian cited a Michigan State University survey done last fall, in which 900 employers were surveyed in 48 states about which majors are “hot.” He said the report found that in most fields, employers have the greatest interested in liberal arts majors.

Though Steinberg, a nursing major, has already secured a job after graduation, she said her employer said there have been “good things” coming out of Eau Claire, attributing this to the liberal arts emphasis.

Graduates’ careers generally change within one year of graduation, Skoug said, adding that this won’t faze a liberal arts graduate, who has a wider field of experience.

UW-Eau Claire, being a liberal arts institution, equips students with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are high in demand in the current job market, she said.

Senior Michelle Schneider, who is on the verge of graduating with a degree in psychology, agrees that having knowledge about other subjects is important for all students, regardless of their majors.

“No matter what you’re doing, there’s always some overlap,” she said.

Steinberg cited her anthropology course as being very helpful for understanding where people come from, which is a perspective she would not have gained at a non-liberal arts school.

“Having a liberal-arts background gives you a more diversified view,” Steinberg said.

Steve Baumgardner, professor of psychology, has done two studies of Eau Claire graduates who are a few years out of school, surveying them about their experiences in the working world.

Jobs don’t just “fall into boxes,” Baumgardner said, adding that the careers of college graduates involve a combination of many different skills. He said right after college, it’s the business and accounting majors that are going to make the big money, but down the line, those with a liberal arts education will catch up or do better, even though it takes longer to develop their careers.

“Ultimately,” he said, “It’s the liberal arts person that will run the show.”