WSJ: Languages Pay

In a globalized world, “language is the new oil,” claims Hans Fenstermacher, CEO of GALA. It stands to reason that among the liberal arts disciplines, language study, especially translation and localization (a 32 billion dollar industry), is on the rise. The WSJ captures this rise in terms of higher salaries; it’s not clear, however, that the author of the article (or, for that matter, the authors of the NACE study cited) see(s) the economic drivers pushing the pay of language majors to the top.


“Parents, don’t despair. Even if your child spends four years of
college reading Hungarian poetry or delving deep into the Faulkner
oeuvre, he or she can still earn a decent salary shortly after packing
up the senior-year dorm room. So says the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which
reports that the top-paying liberal arts majors for 2014 graduates are
foreign languages and literature (average starting salary $46,900) and
English ($42,200). The results are based on job offers that students
accepted earlier this year and were reported by employers in February
2014 primarily through a variety of government surveys.”

read here:

Researcher Finds that Study Abroad Improves Thinking Skills

The study, which focuses on an international MBA abroad program, argues that students become more “flexible, creative and complex thinkers.”

“[…] Using a
culturally diverse sample, we found that “multicultural engagement”–the
to which students adapted to and learned about new
cultures–during a highly international 10-month master of business
(MBA) program predicted the number of job offers
students received after the program, even when controlling for important
personality/demographic variables. Furthermore,
multicultural engagement predicted an increase in integrative complexity
the course of the 10-month program, and this
increase in integrative complexity mediated the effect of multicultural
on job market success…”

study here:

Time Magazine comments here:

Teaching Business by Reading Plato, Kant and Derrida?

The London Business School is now doing this, and the idea, the article states, was a response to students overly focused on the bottom line and to complaints by employers who say “recent
graduates are trained to solve single problems but often miss the big

But will one course do the job? I’m curious about how the courses are constructed to bridge the gap between disciplines. And wouldn’t it be better if the courses were taught by trained philosophers or, better, co-taught from business and philosophical perspectives?

*thanks to Crismon Lewis for link.

What’s Right and Wrong with Tom Friedman’s Interview with Google

Tom Friedman’s NYT interview with Lazlo Bock, Google’s chief of HR, has reignited discussion about educational pathways to promising careers (like working for Google). In Part 1 of the interview, we learned that Google doesn’t care about college degrees; they care about what people know and can actually do. According to Bock, college degrees are no longer a clear index of success within their firm.

Part 2 (here: follows up on the earlier discussion and makes similarly provocative claims. One of them is this: “I told [a] student they [sic] are much better off being a B student in
computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a
rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load. That student
will be one of our interns this summer.”

Although Bock surely must know what kinds of employees Google needs, his general assumption about what happens in English departments is dubious. As many people in the “comments” section point out: English degrees at good universities are extremely challenging and require mastery of different modes of inquiry, symbolic interpretation, analysis and communication. Such skills and critical thought processes do not come “naturally”; they are instilled via years of rigorous and careful training. Many students, in fact, never properly acquire them. Meanwhile China, Eastern Europe and India are producing an overabundance of coders.

Bock’s other eyebrow-raising observation is this: “Humans are by nature creative beings, but not by nature logical,
structured-thinking beings. Those are skills you have to learn.”

Bock’s suggestion is that students should study computer science or other STEM disciplines since one set of skills is inborn while the other set requires arduous training. The fact is that companies and organizations worldwide complain of a severe shortage of creative talent. And the explosive growth of design and innovation labs on American campuses tells a different story from Bock’s: that creative thinking can and must be taught to meet the current market demand for innovation.

Bock does finally make two important points: 1) that students need to proactively take charge of their education, and 2) that a premium is currently placed on unique combinations of skills. Instead of thinking in either/or terms, such as English or computer science, or more broadly, the humanities or STEM, students should explore both.

I suspect that part of the mixed message in this piece
comes from a split vision within Google’s hierarchy: the HR
chief’s immediate hiring exigencies (e.g., rank and file coders) inform a view that does not cleanly align with the creative vision of the leaders at the top. Indeed, a previous post on Google in this blog contradicts Friedman’s interviewee: Google Searching for Humanities Students – Humanities. It also comes from the wrong-headed assumption by Bock (and apparently Friedman) that the current needs and hiring strategies of Google should determine the educational choices of all students. From where I sit, this view is short-sighted and easily refutable.

Wall Street Journal Touts Humanities as Career Prep

The myth that studying the humanities doesn’t pay was recently
exploded by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and
the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Their
study, released in January, analyzed Census Bureau data on the
education and occupation of about three million U.S. residents.

read here: (requires subscription)

Utah: Most Cosmopolitan State in the U.S.?

If we’re talking about the number of people with extensive foreign experience and near-native foreign language ability, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” It was my first big surprise upon arriving in Utah over 20 years ago, and now so observes Nicholas Kristof of the NYT (below).

The deeper point not to be missed, however, is that language study and, more broadly, the humanities and in-depth experience abroad are a magnet for global business. Those who think that language study is “not useful” or “a waste of time” because the world speaks English are clearly mistaken. The explosive growth of global companies and organizations locating in Utah (of all places) stands as clear evidence. Graduates of Utah’s universities are also heavily recruited by government agencies and for overseas employment by multinationals.

This success explains why Utah now has one of the biggest language immersion programs in the country. Kids in even remote cowboy towns can do half of the curriculum from 1st grade through the end of high school in Spanish, French, Portuguese or Chinese. More languages are currently being considered. The reason is that a majority of Utahns understand that opportunity at home now means opening on to the world.


Utah may well be the most cosmopolitan state in America. Vast numbers of young Mormons — increasingly women as well as men — spend a couple of years abroad as missionaries and return jabbering in Thai or Portuguese and bearing a wealth of international experience.

More than 130 languages are spoken
daily in commerce in Utah, according to the University of Utah, and
that’s one reason it sometimes tops the Forbes list of best states to do
business. The state is a center for trade and for global companies.

read here:

The Trades or Art History? Gopnick and Zakaria Discuss the Merits of the Humanities

President Obama’s recent crack about the study of art history as ineffective career training was challenged by an art historian, to whom he later apologized. If jokes, however, depend on stereotypes to be funny, they also reinforce them–in this case, that art history, and more broadly, the humanities, are frivolous pursuits with little worth for professional life. We understand what the president meant and studying a trade is fine. But his quip nonetheless piggybacks on an insidious “classist” mentality in its reinforcement of the social and economic divides that the American education system was designed precisely to overcome. The choice shouldn’t be either/or, but both, and for economic reasons.

Without wanting to reduce the study of art history to its market value, Adam Gopnick rightly mentions that many companies in the modern economy owe their success to design and esthetics (Steve Jobs claimed that Apple’s success derives from being “at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts”); Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind convincingly argues the same point (yesterday’s “soft” skills are today’s “hard” skills); and, if many engineering schools around the country encourage or require students to study the arts it’s because they know that success depends on innovation, and innovation depends on attention to design and on the human interface.

watch here:

previous post on the value of art history:

Trend at Cornell to Add Practical Minor to Humanities Degrees

The Cornell Sun reports that students in humanities disciplines at Cornell are increasingly adding “practical” minors to their humanities training. In fact, Pauline Yu, President of the American Council of Learned Societies, cites this as a nationwide trend.

Adding a minor is an excellent idea and sounds like a Humanities+ strategy. The difference, however, is the justification. Mention is made in the article of the minor as a “fallback,” something to pursue if the Humanities don’t work out.

While understandable, the fallback idea is not a well-reasoned or informed career strategy. It also does not recognize the market value of humanities skills and capacities in today’s global economy. Based on market evidence found in this blog, students would be smarter to consider interdisciplinary combinations as more than the sum of the parts. The market is not looking just for technical minors OR for the humanities in isolation, but both and in interesting combinations.

When asked what kinds of skills American employers are looking for in recent grads, labor researcher, Phil Gardner, sums it up like this:

“There are really only two choices for graduates who want a lot of options: to be a technically savvy liberal arts graduate or liberally educated technical graduate.”

And this view is based a survey of over 10,000 companies.

Also missing in the Cornell piece is an emphasis on internship experience. Well above 80% of employers of college grads require it.

read about Cornell here:

What Skills Are Liberal Arts Grads Missing?

Management consultant, Robert W. Goldfarb, comments on the kinds of skills liberal arts grads currently need to bridge the gap into the marketplace. The article underscores the value of the liberal arts degree but also the necessity of supplementing it with “hard” skills readily identifiable by the marketplace. What are those skills, according to Goldfarb?

read here: