No, Stop with the Tech Focus: Go to College and Major in the Humanities

With all of the focus policymakers currently have on getting more students to study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, it’s worth pointing out that not everyone on thinks this is a responsible public policy direction.

According to an article by Vivek Wadhwa in the Washington Post:

The theory goes as follows: STEM degree holders will get higher pay upon graduation and get a leg up in the career sprint.

The trouble is that theory is wrong. In 2008, my research team at Duke and Harvard surveyed 652 U.S.-born chief executive officers and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies. We found that they tended to be highly educated: 92 percent held bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent held higher degrees. But only 37 percent held degrees in engineering or computer technology, and just two percent held them in mathematics. The rest have degrees in fields as diverse as business, accounting, finance, healthcare, arts and the humanities.

As Wadhwa, a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford Law School, explains,

Gaining a degree made a big difference in the sales and employment of the company that a founder started. But the field that the degree was in was not a significant factor. Over the past two years, I have interviewed the founders of more than 300 Silicon Valley start-ups. The most common traits I have observed are a passion to change the world and the confidence to defy the odds and succeed.

And those traits, perhaps, are actually fostered by majoring in the liberal arts.

As Wadhwa says, “humanity majors make the best project managers, the best product managers, and, ultimately, the most visionary technology leaders.” Now, granted, he can’t actually prove this, but he makes a good case. Humanities majors, often, can come up with good ideas because they, perhaps better than the STEM geeks, get how people interact with technology and new ideas.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer