Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Promotion to Full Professor: DENIED


I am sad and frustrated to announce that National Louis University has denied my application for promotion to full Professor.

This happened even though the college tenure and promotion committee, the university tenure and promotion committee, the college dean, and the provost all recommended that I be promoted.

When the provost brought her recommendation to the board of trustees, one of the board members raised objection to the claim that I have exhibited "sustained excellence" in teaching. This trustee happens to have been a former student of mine in the Technology in Education program. (Indeed, she was a trustee while taking classes with me, which I did not know at the time). Her comment opened up a discussion about the need to "raise the bar" for promotion to full professor.

The president told me later that she felt that "sustained excellence" specifically means--for her and for the board--that student evaluations of courses be consistently positive and increasing over time. She explained that this is critically important because the reputation of NLU rests on excellent and effective teaching. (I raised the objection that research shows little correlation between student course evaluations and actual student learning, but to her that was irrelevant because we need our students to be satisfied with their "unparalleled student experience" at NLU.)

(Please excuse me for the self-indulgent nature of the rest of this blog post. I suggest you don't continue to read this if you don't want to hear me whine about how unfair I believe this to be.)

According to everyone I've talked to (including the president and provost), I met every other criteria for promotion to full professor including every criteria for teaching "effectiveness" other than student evaluations of my teaching. (The faculty committees seem much more interested in the depth of a faculty member's reflections on the challenges he or she has faced in teaching than on the numbers from student evaluations.)

I've been teaching for over 30 years, and I've always had mixed student evaluations, including in recent years. There seem to be many reasons for this. My "ratings" have definitely suffered as a result of moving the Technology in Education program completely online in 2009. (I find it very difficult to teach students how to use software online, especially since our students come with a wide range of previous experience with technology. I also often find it difficult to know whether my students are experiencing frustration with various assignments, because they will often express that frustration to their classmates but not to me.) My course evaluations are better in face-to-face classes, and they are much better in philosophy of education, research, and doctoral level courses.

I have been trying for years to move my teaching load from primarily technology in education courses to other topics. Increasingly I feel both uninterested in, and not qualified for, teaching technology in education. My interest in technology in education has always been rooted in my interest in philosophical and curriculum issues rather than the technology itself. (My Ph.D. was in Philosophy of Curriculum and that's the area in which I continue to do my scholarly work.) The students in our Technology in Education program seem mostly uninterested in deep thinking about how technology can transform teaching and learning and more interested in learning technology skills. (The exception is students who come in with high technology skills. Those students are, in my mind, actually ready to think about transforming schooling.) 

The trustee mentioned above, for example, is someone who came into the program with low technology skills. When she expressed her frustration with the expectations of my assignments, I met with her in person and tried to help her, but what she actually needed was basic computer skills such as file management, copying and pasting, and an understanding of how different types of files work with different types of programs. Our Technology in Education program assumes that incoming students have met the ISTE Standards for Teachers before they enroll; however, the pressure to keep enrollment up has meant that NLU has accepted students who have not attained that skill level--which is very hard to assess in any case. (The program leads to certification as a Technology Specialist in Illinois and meets the ISTE Standards for Coaches.)

The other reality that I've been reluctant to admit publicly is that I've never had a course in technology or in technology in education. I am completely self-taught. When I was younger, my natural tech affinity and personal exploration kept me well ahead of the curve. As I get older, however, I find that I am not able to keep up. Heck, I don't want to keep up. (A particularly stressful experience involving NLU and my work in Second Life back in 2007 caused me to pull back almost completely from innovation in educational technology, and I've gradually stopped going to ISTE and Illinois Computing Educator conferences.  I did spend a few hours recently with Pokemon Go, but quickly lost interest and never learned enough to even begin to think about its possible educational applications.) 

The truth of the matter is that, other than a summer institute at Teachers College that I participated in during the summer of 1987 and math methods and materials class I took as a graduate student in 1988, and becoming certified as a Quality Matters course reviewer in 2014, I've never had any training as a teacher. This particularly hurts me, I think, because I teach in a college of education, where almost all of my colleagues have specializations in one or more aspects of preK-12 teaching.

I think my course evaluations also reflect my high expectations for student thinking, my tendency to not give all As to students, and my personality (which includes some misanthropic tendencies and occasional elitist biases that show themselves despite my best efforts). To be honest, I'm not always the kindest person, including to myself.

I shared all of this with NLU's president and provost after my promotion was denied. The president was surprised that I have continued to teach technology in education courses given that I have lost interest and feel unqualified. She seemed to think that my teaching load is up to me, or at least that I should be able to adjust it over time. I explained to her that it wasn't really up to me. The technology in education program director who hired me in 2004 became our associate dean in 2006. The colleague we hired in 2007 to take over as program director left in 2014 for a much better job closer to his kids. Our teacher education programs are gradually doing away with the requirement for courses in educational foundations (philosophy, history, etc.). Our "veteran" faculty consistently claim doctoral courses as their own, an ongoing reality that neither of our past two deans have been able to do anything about. So to fill my load, I'm usually dependent on technology in education courses, whether I want to teach them or not. 

Fortunately, this situation may be about to change. We recently appointed a new program director for technology in education, who will take on some of the teaching load for the program and who is spearheading a division of our program into two strands, one for those who need to learn more technology and another for those who are ready to think about transformation. Also, I have been selected as the new director of doctoral programs in our college, and in that role I might have some say in who gets to teach what and will (I hope) be able to put myself on more dissertation committees. 

But, in the meantime, I stuck at the level of associate professor, most likely without a raise until I can accumulate whatever counts to our board as a record of "sustained excellence" in student course evaluations. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What skills do teaching and corporate work have in common?

Some skills (soft and "hard") that are transferable between classroom teaching and corporate work:

1. oral and written communication skills
2. interpersonal skills
3. demonstrated ability to work independently
4. demonstrated creative problem-solving skills
5. demonstrated ability to learn new things quickly and apply them in various contexts
6. demonstrated ability to work in fast-paced, pressured environment
7. active listening skills
8. patience
9. planning and organization
10. discipline
11. adaptability
12. ability to work collaboratively and to coach teamwork
13. ability to give clear instructions and to rephrase for different learners
14. cultural intelligence
15. emotional intelligence
16. social media/networking

(To be continued.)


Thursday, June 25, 2015

What's an "envelope link"?

I obviously have too much time on my hands (or, more likely, I am vigorously procrastinating from finishing up my grading for the Spring quarter), but…

I subscribe to a daily blog post by my friend Nick Burbules.  Nick (who is an educational theorist in his day job) has been writing this blog for many years (since 2004!!). 

The Blog, called Progressive Blog Digest, or PBD, is a summary, or "digest," of progressive blogs (and other news sources), tracking what's currently interesting to the progressive blogosphere. 

Before it was a Blog, PBD was a daily email message, called "Today's News." A vestige of those humble origins exists in Google Group, called "Today's News," that allows anyone to get the daily edition of PBD delivered via email. The archives of "Today's News" shows 3442 "topics," which translates into approximately 3442 daily editions. That's a lot of writing!

In any case, I've been reading Nick's daily posts since the beginning, or nearly so. I like to get it via email, and usually read it while drinking my morning tea as my primary way of keeping up on what's going on in the political world. (Yes, yes, I know, it's not exactly objective news, but still it keeps me up to date on big political events.)

Anyway, I heartily recommend PBD to anyone who is interested in progressive politics. You can subscribe to the daily email here:!forum/todays-news or read the blog on the Web at

When I read PBD/Today's News on my phone (which is typical…I use CloudMagic these days for my consolidated emails), this is what I see at the end of every Today's News post:

This morning, a particular sentence in this boilerplate footer jumped out at me: 

If you enjoy PBD and support what we are doing, you can help by forwarding a copy of this issue to your friends (using the envelope link below) or by sending them a copy of its URL:

I’ve looked at this sentence a thousand times and never wondered until this morning. 

However, this morning, I wondered: "What’s an 'envelope link'?

(There are a number of links there: none obviously looks like an envelope link.)

So, naturally, I googled “envelope link.” Nothing relevant. (Try it!)

If I am using Gmail via its web interface, it’s a little easier to figure out what "link" is referred to, because there is only one link “below.”

Gmail is smart enough to normally “trim” out the Google Group boilerplate, but you can see it if you click the little gray ellipses at the bottom of the message, as I've done here:

But still, what’s the “envelope link”?

When I teach my students how to post their blogs to D2L (Desire2Learn, our learning management system, which I think might be changing its name to "Brightspace"), I teach them the difference between the overall blog URL and the “permalink.”  (

The link at the bottom of a blog post (linked to the title of the blog, or sometimes to the date that it was originally posted) is the permalink. 

“Permalink” isn’t a very pretty word (I like “envelope link” better), but maybe there is a better phrase?

I looked up “What’s another word for permalink,” but Word Hippo said “No words found.” (

So…I guess we’re stuck with “envelope link” (which as near as I can tell Nick made up) or “permalink.”

By the way, while writing this blog post, I learned two new words:


See what I get for procrastinating?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Dear Ethyl: An open letter to my true love

[UPDATED at the bottom]

Dear Ethyl,

I know this is going to come hard to you, if not as a complete surprise.

I am breaking up with you. For at least six months, maybe longer. Starting now.

Don't try to talk me out of this. My mind's made up. I'm sorry to tell you this in a letter. But I must.

Believe me, this hurts me more than it hurts you. In fact, I'm guessing that in a short time, you won't miss me much at all, if at all. You have a lot more admirers than I could ever hope for. You don't need me. In fact, you'll be happier without me, I'm sure.

Me, on the other hand, I will miss you terribly.  I already miss you terribly! Heck, I could use a good hug from you right now!

Well, let me rephrase that. Part of me wants to hug you right now. Another part of me doesn't necessarily want to see you NOW, but knows that I'll want to see you again, and soon! (It's that second part that scares me the most. How long will I keep wanting you, Ethyl?!?)

But there's another part of me that knows in its heart of hearts that a separation is a good idea right now. (Indeed, that's a good way to put it: "in its heart of hearts." In my heart of hearts, I know I must leave you.)

Now, you and I both know that our relationship has always been a little unbalanced.  I have expected more from you than you could ever give. Not only that, but my desire for you has taken me over at times, turning me into an Ethyl-craver rather than a Craig-guy. (Not that "Craig-guy" is all that wonderful...but at least he's sane!)

Sometimes, during our many years together, you have been equally desirous of me, and we have had many glorious times: talking, laughing, dancing, sailing, going to concerts, sharing wonderful meals, making out, and all manner of other enjoyableness. Some activities--dancing comes immediately to mind--have NEVER felt good to me unless you've been there with me. You're amazing that way!

But not all those thrilling encounters have turned out well. I have at times become so crazed in my love for you that I have lost a sense of self. I have allowed lust to take over from reason. I have made bad choices. You know as well as me that some of those choices have had permanent negative impacts on my life.

Indeed, I can say quite accurately and without exaggeration that my relationship with you has produced most of the negative baggage that I carry in my life. Some of it will stay negative, and on my back, for years to come.

This is not your fault, Ethyl. You have lovingly responded to my aching for you. The negative stuff is all my fault, really. Please, don't blame yourself.

But I do have to say one thing about you that you might take as a negative. But its so much at the core of who you are that you have to acknowledge it--to embrace it wholeheartedly--because it is of your essence. It's why I fell in love with you in the first place!

Being with you loosens me makes me a more fun-loving person. You help me reveal my emotions! You have introduced me to so many fun and interesting people. Those people have enriched my life. YOU have enriched my life. Your presence often brings joy to my heart.

But that's the problem, you see!

Ethyl, your attractive qualities overwhelm me. In a way, you lure me in, unsuspectingly. This is why I must end this relationship, for now.

You see, Ethyl, after the amazing joy you bring me, upon the light of a new day, some of your other effects on me become more apparent. Sometimes, bad things have happened while I was uberklempt: things I didn't even realize were happening. I've even done things while I was enjoying time with you that I can't even remember doing!

And, by the next morning, have turned on me! You show another side of yourself that brings me nothing but pain!

The next day, Ethyl, you've become pure poison, bringing nothing but pain.

A little pain the next day is no big deal: it's greatly outweighed by the pleasures of our dalliance. But sometimes, Ethyl, it's terrible what you do to me. Sometimes, the ache, the longing, the emotional and physical upset, is so much that NO amount of joy the previous evening makes it worthwhile!

Yet, I have always come back. After a few days, I forget the pain. All I remember is the longing! So I call you up, ask you out, invite you to have a few drinks together. Then, I'm happy again. The joy returns! (Or, at least, we hang out for a while: all is cool. Even in the morning. )

But it's a vicious cycle, Ethyl. The pain always returns. ALWAYS.

And what's worse, as I've come to realize--or at least as I have come to accept at this present moment--is that the long-term effects of our relationship on me are deadly.

You're killing me, Ethyl--plain and simple.

Or, rather, I'm killing me. That's definitely a better way to put it. It's my lack of control over my desire for you that is tearing me apart--from the inside out.

And I've told myself this before: if I could only control my desire for more of you better, even just a little bit better, we could probably continue this glorious love affair forever.

But even if I think I can control my desire--even if I CAN and DO control it most of the time--it's really just me kidding myself.

                     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

So what changed, you ask? How did I come to this realization so forcefully today, of all days?

Well, I don't want to go into all the details, but suffice to say that today a person who is sincerely concerned with my long-term physical and emotional health--who values my health over anything else, and who knows more about me than anyone--told me as plainly as she could that I will die if I keep seeing you like this.

This person isn't the first to suggest this to me. But she's the first person who told me this in a way that I simply cannot ignore. It's like she showed me a graph of my health over the past 20 years, and it's been generally, gradually, inexorably downward, heading toward the end.

This isn't entirely your fault, Ethyl. There other factors. If some of those other factors weren't present, you and I might be able to keep going, becoming old and happy together. But those factors ARE present. This person spelled that out to me today. I can't keep pretending.

Let me rephrase the first sentence in that last paragraph. NONE of this is your fault, Ethyl. You are what you are--and it seems to work for you--you're as popular as ever and new people are always wanting to get involved with you. Well, enjoy them.

But please, Ethyl, please, PLEASE, just let me go now.  In a few months, or a year, I might come back. Some of those other factors in the pain you've caused me I've experienced with you might have gone away by then. I might have figured out how to control myself around you--how to enjoy you without destroying myself. How to make the joy outweigh the long-term pain. Maybe...we'll see.

Now you know I love you, Ethyl. I will ALWAYS love you, even if I can't ever see you again. You will always have a special place in my life. Always.

Please be well, my love. That's my most fervent desire for myself, and my most sincere wish for you.

I'll miss you. :-( But for now, it's goodbye.

Yours forever,


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Generalizations and Individual Destiny: Geeking Out on Choosing Nerdiness

The ability to recognize opportunities and move in new - and sometimes unexpected - directions will benefit you no matter your interests or aspirations. A liberal arts education is designed to equip students for just such flexibility and imagination. --Drew Gilpin Faust, American Historian
Last night, I was hanging out at my favorite local watering hole, and I met my friend Matt, who introduced me to his friend, Jill, a beautiful, vibrant woman who happens to date one of the watering hole's employees.  The three of us got into an elaborate and funny conversation about the differences between "nerd" and "geek."

My own view is shaped by my having come of age in the 1970s, when nerd meant something very specific, and it wasn't a compliment. I was constantly called a nerd as a kid, I guess because I liked school and got good grades or maybe because I kind of looked/look like this guy:

The word "geek" didn't even really appear in my experience until the 1980s and always seemed to have more of a connotation of a person having a particular idiosyncratic interest that goes way beyond what's typical.

In any case, it seems that comparing "geek" and "nerd" is something a lot of people feel compelled to do, as you'll find out if you google "geek vs. nerd." One fun comparison is in this not-official-but-parodic Epic Rap Battle of History starring Rhett and Link of Good Magical Morning:
The three of us went back and forth and all around, eventually lapsing into a kind of punchy silliness in which each of us tried to use "nerd" or "geek" in some new way that illustrated the different ways they can be used. Jill made perhaps the best point of the discussion, which is that the definitions of these terms are quite fluid and you don't really know what someone means by their use of one or the other unless you look at the context and sometimes even then you have to ask for some elaboration. We three agreed that equivocation about the meaning of "nerd" and "geek" was the better part of wisdom.

But that's not what I want to write about today. As the nerd vs. geek discussion wound down, we began discussing the particularly nerdy (or geeky) quality in some people that they are really interested in some particular area of study, often not very practical.  Jill expressed a somewhat negative view of people who study, for example, sociology in college, as if that might prepare them for some sort of practical job afterwards. I pressed her on this a bit, because it seemed to me that she was saying that it's a mistake for people to study a discipline like that in college--that college should have some relationship to getting a decent job afterwards. "You know how many people with B.A.'s in the liberal arts are working in places like this as waiters and waitresses?"

As people who know me can attest, I often find myself defending a point of view that goes against what is taken to be "conventional wisdom." This notion that going to college and majoring in the liberal arts is impractical and in fact somewhat idiotic given the realities of the current economic climate is one of those conventionally accepted ideas that I consider to be worthy of ongoing critique. 

It turns out that Jill is a professor of social work, which might explain why sociology was her particular choice of an impractical college major. Whereas sociology at the undergraduate level is full of grand theories that don't have much particular application to the actual concerns of actual people in actual situations (or so Jill's sense of it goes), social work is a real profession, and those who study social work are initiated into a whole set of practices, useful theoretical frameworks, and standards that ensure that it connects directly to the real world.

I myself majored in history in college, and I think I've done quite fine by myself (thank you very much). Yet getting a job in 1983 when I graduated was no cake-walk, for sure.  (Like many of my liberal-arts-educated friends, I went to law school, which was supposed to ensure that I would get a great job, make a lot of money, and be eternally happy.  It didn't quite work out that way, but that's a story for another time.) Now I work as a professor in the field of education, which, like social work, has a similar kind of existential connection to the real world that keeps it from being the province primarily of academic nerds. (This is not to say there aren't education nerds, but they are a lot more rare than, say, sociology nerds. People don't tend to go into education out of a purely theoretical interest. If the standard response that an education major got when she revealed her choice of major at a cocktail party was "What are you going to do with that?," many of us education professors--especially those of us with a primarily theoretical interest--would be out of a job.) So I get what Jill was trying to say about the difference between majoring in something like sociology--with little practical application--and social work--which is nothing if not practical.

But I'm a nerd, and I get a particular nerdy kick out of being particularly contrarian about what I see as too-likely-to-be-accepted-without-question conventional wisdoms like "it's not smart to go to college and major in something like sociology and expect to find a job afterwards."

Without necessarily being aware that she was playing a role in a more common morality play, Jill hit all the right notes in the ensuing conversation.  She even started getting emphatic about her main point when I began pushing back.

You always know someone is getting emphatic about something when they start using this "illustrator" gesture:

This gesture is less threatening than a "tomahawk chop" through the air, but it is used to "indicate decisiveness, chopping with each point." When someone starts emphasizing their point with this gesture, I'm always tempted to mimic them, to show them the effect of their gesture. Sometimes, it gets people to realize that their gesture may indicate that they're passionate about what they're saying, but the gesture does little to convince someone else.

Jill's point was that going to college and majoring in the liberal arts is not only impractical but even idiotic. "Everyone [hand chop] knows that it's nearly impossible [hand chop] to get a job [hand chop] out of college with a liberal [hand chop] arts {hand chop] major [hand chop]."

"But not everyone knows that!," I interjected. "And it's not even true! Lots of people get good jobs after going to a place like the University of Chicago with a liberal arts major!"

"But that's not the point," she chopped. "The world has changed! It's no longer the case that having a liberal arts degree identifies someone as an elite person with enormous potential in a job!"

"But it's true for some people!"

"But it's not true for most!"

"But that doesn't mean people shouldn't do it!"

"They shouldn't do it if they expect to get a job!"

At this point, we paused. She was clearly frustrated that I wouldn't admit a simple empirical point about the changing value of a liberal arts degree. I was frustrated that she seemed to believe that her "empirical point" was more important than the circumstances of an individual person's life choices.

As we briefly debriefed what had just happened, I realized that she was expressing a more-or-less typical social worker position that tries to help people make good choices by clewing them into the larger context of those choices, whereas I was expressing a philosophical, existentialist position that each individual's choices are unique, with specific unique circumstances that are far more important in determining outcomes than empirical generalizations. As Jill put it, we were "having different conversations," which is why we weren't coming to agreement but just clinging more strongly to our positions.

So what to make of all this?

First, let's look at the claim that a liberal arts degree isn't worth what it used to be. Turns out that this claim, while widely held, is harder to prove than it might seem.

How widely held? In 2012, Gallup surveyed parents of pre-collegiate students and found that more parents believed that majoring in a vocational/professional/technical degree was likely to result in their children getting a good job than those who believed a liberal arts degree would, and in fact, that more parents thought not going to college at all would result in a good job than parents who thought going to college and majoring in the liberal arts would:

(That study also showed that more parents identify getting a good job as the most important reason to go to college than becoming a well-rounded person.)

Conservative pundits and politicians seem particularly likely these days to criticize the liberal arts. Part of the reason for this seems to be an underlying distrust of the the focus of some liberal arts subject-matter on examining power relations and the history of oppression of certain groups, such as gender studies does with regard to women. The humanities seem to have a particularly bad rap in terms of how people think of their value as a college major. One "study" (more like an opinion piece with a right-wing bias) claims that the following majors are "useless" and "do jack sh** for you in the real world": art history, philosophy, American studies, music therapy, communications, dance, English literature, Latin, Film, and religion. But criticisms of the liberal arts aren't confined to conservatives; even Robert Reich, Democrat and former Secretary of Labor, believes more students should choose technical degrees rather than liberal arts.

A Pew study released in early 2014 found that graduates who had majored in the liberal arts, social science, or education were more likely than those who had majored in science and engineering to express regret about their choice of major (33% to 24%). The former group is also much more likely to say that they are overqualified for their current job (42% to 28%). Graduates who majored in science, engineering, or business are also more likely to believe that their college major is closely related to their current job.

Interesting, Millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to express some regret about their choices in college, including their choice of major. This gives some tangential support to the notion that things are changing in terms of whether majoring in the liberal arts is something people come to regret later. However, it could also be the case that Baby Boomers have had a longer time since college to come to terms with their choices or find some way to make those choices work for them.

Further evidence of a change in the value of the liberal arts comes from educators and administrators who work in higher education. David Maxwell, outgoing president of Drake University, writes that "Thirty years ago, it was fairly risky for an academic at a liberal arts college to talk among colleagues about the 'relevance' of liberal education to the real world, especially to preparing students for employment." But that has changed; everyone in higher education now recognizes that dealing honestly and up front with issues of relevance and job prospects is necessary to make the case that parents and students should invest time and money in a college degree of any type.

What about employers' perceptions? Certainly they want to hire people with the technical skills they need for particular jobs. And according to some employers and economists, there is a shortage of skills in many technical fields, whereas there seems to be a surplus of those with liberal arts majors.

According to one study, only 2% of employers are seeking to hire graduates in the liberal arts, whereas 27% want engineering and computer science graduates, and 18% want business majors. 

However, the number one "job skill" that employers want in their new hires is a strong work ethic. They also want adaptability. As some researchers have written, "The modern workplace demands adaptability, broad-mindedness and creativity -- competencies that are well developed in programs based on a liberal or general education model." Critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills are developed by rigorous participation in disciplines across the liberal arts.

But what of the bottom line? Does majoring in the liberal arts hurt the prospects of college students in terms of salary?

Well, yes. Recent college graduates with liberal arts degrees tend to make less money than those who majored in professional or preprofessional fields, or in the sciences, math, or engineering. One study concluded that the college majors with the lowest overall financial return on investment (ROI) are, beginning with the lowest: Communications, psychology, nutrition, hospitality/tourism, religious studies/theology, education, fine arts, and sociology. (Only some of these are what is traditionally thought of as "liberal arts.) This echoes what career advisor Penelope Trunk says, that 85% of college students are wasting their money. (Trunk doesn't specifically criticize the liberal arts, saying that what really matters is the quality of the school rather than the major. More on this, below.)

Liberal arts majors do tend to make up this ground over time, earning more during their peak earning years (age 56-60) than the professional or pre-professional majors.  However, this advantage of the liberal arts disappears when those who have gone on to get advanced degrees are taken out of consideration. What's more, those who majored in science, math, or engineering end up making considerably more ($20 - $30K per year) than those who majored in the liberal arts. (See the report details here.)

So majoring in the liberal arts is likely to result in lower earnings overall during a career than majoring in science, math, or engineering. The unemployment rate among recent liberal arts graduates is also slightly higher than it is for science majors. Does this mean hand-chopping Jill was right?

Certainly there are financial premiums for majoring in science, math, or engineering (the so-called STEM fields). But there's no evidence that majoring in a professional or pre-professional field (like social work or education) is better than majoring in the liberal arts, at least not financially, and certainly not over the long haul.

Some have argued that the advantage of the STEM fields isn't so much the particular subject matter that is studied, but the ways that this subject matter is taught, in a practical and applied manner. As Boston's Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun recently writes, "liberal arts classes are often framed by the traditions of the essay and exam paper." This makes them more likely to stress abstract concepts.
"This boundary between the abstract and the real may largely account for the conceit that a liberal arts education doesn’t equate to a tangible outcome, or a tangible paycheck. However, liberal arts programs can counter this misperception by reproducing the lessons from engineering laboratories or business school co-op programs and adding an experiential component. By practicing the experiential liberal arts, they would better prepare their students to engage in the world."
Aoun, whose university has pioneered a cooperative approach to undergraduate education involving partnerships with businesses and nonprofit organizations, urges liberal arts programs to incorporate applied experiences such as internships and community service programs. The tendency to draw sharp contrasts between "applied" work such as that in the sciences and more theoretical work such as that in the liberal arts is, Aoun suggestions, a false dichotomy. 
"Every scientist needs to ponder the context of her work and communicate its meaning; every liberal arts student should wrangle with the revelations of big data. Both applied disciplines and the liberal arts have much to share between them. By bleeding a little into each other, these two approaches to higher education would give every graduate a powerful, marketable education for today’s economy. 
"So let’s move past the false dichotomy that characterizes the current debate over the liberal arts and applied disciplines. Better to draw lessons from both, and agree that the most valuable education is one that works."
Another less dichotomous way of thinking is for liberal arts majors to take advantage of the flexibility that many of their programs offer for taking electives.
“In the current economy, majoring in liberal arts won't yield good job prospects, so you have to pair a liberal arts degree with business [or marketing, or operations] courses in order to become a more appealing candidate,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding.
Schawbel also found that for some employers, a candidate with no college degree--but real world experience--is more attractive than a typical liberal arts graduate who hasn't really done anything practical. What really matters isn't so much the degree as positive attitude, communication skills, and an ability to work well on a team, especially one with diverse participants.

However, the combination of the liberal arts with more practical and applied subjects--especially when coursework is supplemented by real-world experiences--may be the best of both worlds. The liberal arts have value for helping people across many fields to ask good questions and think through difficult problems--skills that potentially have enormous payoff.  Some colleges are experimenting with hybrid courses and majors that aren't easily characterized as "liberal arts" or something else.