'Tech's Hottest Ticket'? Your Degree
Before handing out academic advice to college students, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin ought to read Forbes. Earlier this year, Bevin suggested that students majoring in French literature should not receive state funding for their college education. As The New York Times reported, Bevin is part of a small but growing number of state and national legislators who "have portrayed a liberal arts education as an expendable, sometimes frivolous luxury that taxpayers should not be expected to pay for."
However, as a survey of corporate hiring managers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed, the skills employers most want when deciding which new college graduates to hire are the ability to work well on a team, make decisions, and solve problems. Next are the ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization; to plan, organize, and prioritize work; and obtain and process information. (Technical knowledge related to the job ranked seventh—close to the bottom of the list.)
These are precisely the kinds of skills that an Oxy education provides. So it was no surprise to read a Forbes story last summer headlined "That 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket." In interviews with tech company executives from across the country, columnist George Anders found that "software companies are discovering that liberal arts thinking makes them stronger … The more that audacious coders dream of changing the world, the more they need to fill their companies with social alchemists who can connect with customers—and make progress seem pleasant." College majors among the software company employees Anders talked to include English literature, sociology, communications, and—in defiance of the worst of political stereotypes—philosophy.
Even America's military academies understand the value of a liberal arts education. "It's important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers," Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor, West Point's academic dean, said in an interview last year. "What you're trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They're having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground."
The key for liberal arts graduates, as Forbes pointed out, is to communicate clearly that you have these skills. That's why Oxy's expanded and enhanced Hameetman Career Center, which was formally dedicated April 17, is crucial to the success of our students and to the College's ability to continue to make a compelling case for the long-term value of an Oxy degree.
Thanks to the vision and generosity of trustees Fred Hameetman '61, chairman of the American Group, and Joan Payden, president and CEO of Payden & Rygel, and a number of other donors, we have a career center of a size and scope sufficient to meet the needs of our students. A modern space in a central, high-traffic location, the center provides a single location where students and alumni can access advising in three key areas: career services, national and international fellowships, and pre-health advising.
Working with students throughout their time at Oxy, the center will systematically give them the tools and the language they need to take their considerable skills and make them relevant to the marketplace. That includes career and graduate school planning; in-depth advising for those interested in health professions; guidance in applying for prestigious fellowships and scholarships; and paid and credit-bearing internships, taking advantage of the many opportunities Los Angeles has to offer.
State and federal policymakers would be wise to pay attention where successful entrepreneurs like Fred and Joan are now investing. (It's more than a little ironic that Gov. Bevins majored in Japanese and East Asian studies.) Their own experience—Joan has hired eight Oxy grads with degrees in the social sciences and humanities over the last decade for her global investment management firm—has shown them that an Oxy liberal arts education provides the skills critical to success. Their investment in the career center will ensure that hiring managers will have access to graduates who have what today's companies are looking for.