Despite research highlighting the value of a liberal arts education, skepticism about the professional utility of a liberal arts degree persists. And many enrollment leaders face an ongoing conversation about how to infuse valuable liberal arts curricula with sought-after “hard skills.”
This concern is especially acute given today’s labor market. Liberal arts graduates typically work in a wide variety of high-paying and growing occupations, but many struggle to find employment within their first year or so of graduation. Some employers also report that liberal arts graduates lack key professional skills that qualify them for specific roles. These professional skills range from softer skills, such as “creative thinking,” to more specific skills like the ability to “analyze and interpret data.”
So how can program leaders give liberal arts grads an edge when searching for gainful, entry-level jobs? Using political science—one of the most commonly available undergraduate liberal arts degrees—as an example, our Professional and Adult Education researchers looked at the skills a program can feasibly confer to make graduates more attractive to employers.
We identified five career fields liberal arts graduates typically enter: business administration, health & human services, human resources, marketing, advertising, & sales, and public relations. We then analyzed over 1.7 million job postings across these career fields to identify in-demand skills a standard political science program can teach in order to prepare graduates to qualify for jobs in each career field.
In-demand skills for political science graduates
The following are top career fields in which political science graduates can work as well as the most in-demand hard skills that programs should confer to prepare students to work in each field.
Leverage your professional and adult education portfolio to confer in-demand skills
Before making drastic changes to your programs, identify the professional skills that most easily align with your existing liberal arts curriculum and the best ways to teach those skills. Liberal arts programs can confer professional skills through experiential learning, coursework from pre-professional majors across campus, or collaboration with professional and adult education programs.
Let’s take a student who possesses communication skills but needs skills specific to professional communications. Consider an experiential learning requirement for which a student could intern with a marketing or public relations firm. Or cross-list courses from other departments, such as your marketing department, as part of your curriculum
Collaborate with professional and adult education (PAE) programs to enhance liberal arts students’ career prospects
Equally important: market the career outcomes available to students thanks to both the “soft” and “hard” skills conferred in your program. Including data from job postings, such as the job titles available to graduates, potential employers, and advertised salaries can help attract students.
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