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Jaipuriar: New York loan forgiveness program can help humanities majors ‘get on their feet’ after graduation

While there is an unfortunate stereotype of the typical humanities graduate — broke, living at home and working as a barista — students who study drama, art or poetry have an undeniable spirit. Some call it passion and others call it unemployable.

The good news is that humanities students aren’t alone in their financial risks. Today’s high tuition prices mean student debt transcends all areas of study, so it essentially becomes a choice between drowning in debt or drowning in relatively less debt, depending on the job prospects of the selected major. But maybe New York students won’t have to choose anymore.

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently launched “Get on Your Feet,” a loan forgiveness program to assist New York college graduates in paying their student loans. It offers relief for up to two years after graduation, provided that individuals are living in New York, earning less than $50,000 per year and enrolled in the federal Pay as You Earn plan.

With debt forgiveness as a viable option, students can receive much needed financial help and as an unintended bonus, approach their futures with more optimism. Cuomo’s program opens doors for the passionate art or literature student who may have been looking to settle for a major with a guaranteed job and minimal debt. Acting as a safety net, the plan has the potential to free those students from the guilt or insecurity of “wasting” money on an unconventional degree.

This mentality of the unemployable humanities major has been seared into our brains, and may be a contributing factor as to why some colleges, like the University of Maryland, are seeing a decline in the number of English majors. Although Syracuse University English department chairwoman Erin Mackie said she hasn’t observed anything similar at SU, it is safe to say the stigma stands.

“I always am very attentive to trying to dismantle this idea that English, history and philosophy are somehow impediments to employment,” Mackie said. “Because they are not.”

She added that departments have to modify, to some extent, the way they promote their programs to prospective families, often by adapting to the cultural and technological changes of the market.

Because a major is not a set path to a career, humanities students are not destined for failure or unemployment. For instance, data from George Mason University found that English majors end up in various jobs, from education, to management and even media.

In fact, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found in 2011 that recent liberal arts and humanities graduates faced a similar unemployment rate to STEM graduates: 9 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively. Despite the facts, there is a disproportionate fear of the humanities.

At the end of the day, getting a degree from a credible institution is what matters most. According to a 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, “college graduates as a whole fared the best… experiencing unemployment rates that were about half the rate all workers experienced.”

This isn’t to say that all majors reap the same rewards or a call for students to drop everything to focus on the arts – unless that’s your true calling. Our economy isn’t set up to have equal numbers of nurses and musicians. It is realistic that certain majors, ones with more technical training, are more likely to be guaranteed jobs.

But with Cuomo’s new program, students with less stable job prospects may still be able to stay financially afloat. Of course, this itself doesn’t make a major in the humanities any easier or any more lucrative. Students are still vulnerable to the harsh job market and the program only protects hem for up to two years after graduation. But it helps knowing you’ll have a backup plan, which makes a degree in the arts or humanities seem less risky.

Ideally, students would not be burdened by debt in the first place. And it’s not safe to rely solely on a plan like “Get on Your Feet” while taking out massive loans or choosing a major. But the program shows that slowly, politicians and decision-makers are realizing that higher education should not be an overpriced luxury.

A college degree is necessary for a well-paying job, but college is about so much more than that — sorry Dad. It’s about self-discovery, growth and the freedom to study what captures your interest.

Sometimes the subject that captures your interest can feel like a gamble. But with loan forgiveness programs, students can feel more secure in pursuing their passions.

Rashika Jaipuriar is a freshman broadcast and digital journalism major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @rashikajpr.



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