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Austin Peay State University Arts, Letters dean Barry Jones explains why you need a humanities degree

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – “The data we’ve been seeing for some time now is that the most important thing you can do is get a college degree, but what you study isn’t as important as getting the degree itself,” Barry Jones, dean of the Austin Peay State University (APSU) College of Arts and Letters, said.

“So the argument can be made, why not follow your passion and get a degree in something that you’re passionate about.” stated Jones

Jones was referring to a recent Inside Higher Ed article that reported how the majority of humanities graduates are “happy with their lives.”

The article challenges the myth that “humanities graduates are poor or unhappy” by citing a 2019 Gallup poll that finds “the opposite is true.” According to that poll, “90 percent of humanities graduates are happy with their lives.” Jones recently sat down to answer a few questions about why students should pursue this happiness by earning a humanities degree.

Q: Can a person make a good living with a humanities degree?

Jones: There’s always the misconstrued notion out there that students who get degrees in the arts don’t get jobs. The numbers don’t play that out. People talk about starving artists, but that’s really not happening. The median salary for humanities graduates is actually quite good. Aside from that, you should do something you love. Ultimately, that’s most people’s goals.

Q: Am I limiting myself by getting a humanities degree?

Jones: No. We’re finding more and more that if we expand what we think of the career options for students with degrees in the humanities, they’re even more successful. And if we look at the skill set that most hiring managers for companies and corporations are looking for, they’re looking for skills gained in the humanities.

Q: What skills will I gain as a humanities graduate?

Jones: I would argue that the most important skill that anyone can have upon leaving college is the ability to write well. Learning to write well comes from practice and time. In all of the humanities areas, writing is a regular part of the curriculum. And so our students leave Austin Peay with the ability to write that exceeds other academic disciplines. That will get you a long way. In the end, all business, all industry, everything is about communication. That’s what we do in the humanities, we teach you to communicate clearly and effectively and to feel empathy. And that’s an important part of communication, to imagine someone else’s experience.

Q: So it’s OK to pursue something I’m passionate about?

Jones: These things often seen as fluff are vitally important to being a good human, and being a good human helps you career-wise. We know all of these things – there are hundreds of articles that come out every year about this, but people just don’t want to accept it. The reality is you’re just as marketable with a degree in the arts as you are with a degree in biology. Why not choose the degree that you’re passionate about?


The Austin Peay State University College of Arts and Letters offers degrees in art and design, communication, history and philosophy, languages and literature, music, and theatre and dance, in addition to programs in African American Studies, Women and Gender Studies and International Studies.

For information about APSU’s College of Arts and Letters, visit www.apsu.edu/coal.

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