Let’s stop separating the arts from STEM

Many college students have likely been within earshot of some witty remark about what liberal arts majors lack in comparison to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors.

A recent Inside Higher Education column only added more fuel to this debate and argued for the erasure of the “A” in “STEAM,” an acronym that integrates the arts into STEM education. Immediately after defending the arts as a “source of enlightenment and inspiration,” the column then pointed to the ways STEAM takes too much attention away from the hard sciences.

In suggesting that the arts are counterproductive to the push for students to prepare for STEM jobs, it implies that the arts can go on the backburner, at least for the time being.

This, of course, isn’t a new debate. STEM has been praised for its post-graduate job stability and, as the column addresses, the need for STEM education is due  to the lack of entry-level job applicants who are familiar with these subjects.

Still, it makes no sense to value the benefits of the arts — especially those in relation to STEM majors — while simultaneously writing them off.

The arts don’t just exist to pepper broad, creative and analytical thinking skills into STEM education, although they do add this skill set. Rather, they are valuable in their own right, and the integrative term STEAM doesn’t water down the focus on science and math.

Even without trying to shorten STEAM and further stigmatize the arts, one can still recognize the differences between the arts and STEM fields. 

It’s not as if having a background in the arts will hold a science or math graduate back from getting a job in her field, just as graduating with a liberal arts degree doesn’t guarantee unemployment. As mentioned in a Forbes article, having internship experience can offset whatever negative connotation some employers have of arts degrees. 

Acknowledging the arts isn’t a bad thing. As noted in an article on Fast Company, liberal arts graduates can bring perspectives they practiced in the classroom to tech companies, from the ability to think beyond just one “correct solution” for a problem to the ability to think of finding long-term solutions to a problem.

The appeal here isn’t just to defend the worth of these degrees in the workplace. Rather, it lies in understanding how these abstract skills in a particular field have their applications in STEM careers.

It’s time to end conversations about whether arts degrees are more valuable than science degrees, or vice versa, as separate career pathways. Obviously, those heading into either field have some idea of what the workplace expects of graduates of each. So when it comes to how students perceive STEM degrees and the market for jobs in these fields, the “A” for arts is still needed in order to make sure these graduates harness skills they might
otherwise miss. 


Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.