In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.This is a blog devoted to creative endeavour but written by a person with a degree in Biology so I have some sympathy for Tabarrok's view that degrees in fine, visual and performing arts are of lesser value than those in science. And yet, I have learned in the past year or so, a respect for design, which Wikipedia tells me is part of Visual Arts.
So what has happened since 2009? The good news is that enrollment in STEM fields has increased dramatically. The number of graduates with computer science degrees, for example, has increased by 34%, chemical engineering degrees are up by a whopping 49.5% and math and statistics degrees have increased by 32%.
The bad news is that we are still graduating more students in the visual and performing arts than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined. As I said in Launching nothing wrong with the visual and performing arts but those are degrees which are unlikely to generate spillovers to society.
Tabarrok also looks at psychology:
In 2009 we graduated 94,271 students with psychology degrees at a time when there were just 98,330 jobs in clinical, counseling and school psychology in the entire nation. The latter figure isn’t new jobs — it’s total jobs!And this is where his argument falters. I think an engineer or a doctor needs a degree in those fields to do the job and be trusted to do the job safely. However, in business, while a degree in Business Administration might be useful, it is not required. A background in psychology would also be useful in a field that deals with negotiations. A friend of mine is a prison guard and his psych degree was looked upon with favour by the hiring committee. It is also an important field for education.
University degrees, especially in the US, are so expensive that it makes little sense to get a degree in one field and work in another. Still, most degrees do not look your brain into only one set of jobs. I do not know the value of an arts degree and still look down on them somewhat (this from an ESL teacher with a Biology degree) but I feel they have more worth and Tabarrok suggests.