News stories abound these days describing the dismal fate of being a young college graduate in America. College tuition is through the roof, meaning that most students graduate with a significant debt burden. Furthermore, thanks to the disproportionate effects of the recession, people in their teens and twenties are far more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than workers from any other demographic group.

So even as college becomes more expensive, the salaries offered afterward keep growing more and more unappealing.

On top of all that, numerous reports have shown that art majors have one of the lowest starting salaries among college graduates. According to one list, art majors have an average starting salary of $35,300, assuming that they can get a job in the first place. This figure compares with $46,500 for business majors and over $60,000 for those who have an engineering degree.

So the 18-year-old with an interest in art will likely look at these figures and possibly decide to major in something else. Instead of immersing himself in the subject and being a lifelong patron of the arts, he may instead pursue a pre-medical course load or get a business degree. Four years later, rather than bringing his art knowledge and background with him into the workforce, he might be seeking student loans for law school or taking an accounting job. The disincentive for our 18-year-old to pursue an art degree has a ripple effect that can impact the rest of his life.

How can we change this?

While we don’t want to force students into majors that offer weaker job possibilities, there are real and intangible benefits of an art education that go far beyond the workplace or the classroom. How then can students be persuaded to learn art in the present economy? The answer is a policy of degree integration. A recent article written in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the recent rise in students pursuing unconventional double majors in the arts and the hard sciences.

These students, most of whom were taking both pre-med and fine arts classes, acknowledged that their interest may seem incompatible but stressed that they were not. For example, one student said that his anatomy classes inform his drawing classes, and vice versa.

Furthermore, all these students expressed a confidence that their passion for art would successfully integrate into a meaningful and productive outside career. Hard sciences provide them with a pre-professional focus and demonstrable job skills, while an art major allows for a degree of uniqueness, creativity, and thought not normally displayed by medical professionals. It’s a win-win.

The dual-major approach is a great way to keep career-conscious students engaged in the arts and to insure a widespread support for the arts for years to come. We start by putting an added focus on art’s integrative and interdisciplinary values. Values already in existence but perhaps require more attention and expression.


Today’s guest post comes from Jenna Lee Smith.  If you would like more information or would like to contact Jenna (she’s really nice!), feel free to get in touch at [email protected]