University of Utah program pushes technical skills for liberal arts majors

Not every student walking away with a liberal arts degree from the University of Utah — or any other institution, for that matter — feels confident picking a profession or finding a job in an often tepid market.

So the university has introduced an option growing in popularity — a certificate program, what it has labeled as “degree-plus.” Though certificates often are geared toward older adults returning to academe and seeking to diversify their skill sets, the University of Utah has concentrated on recent liberal arts graduates, largely in the humanities and social sciences.

The pitch: through just seven or eight weeks of what university officials call inexpensive classes, those with a liberal arts background can learn technical skills that will make them more attractive to prospective employers, and possibly introduce them to a new field.

“Use your psychology degree to move into a career in recruiting and talent acquisition,” a website advertising the program reads. “Take your history degree into the creative fields of web design or digital marketing. Or discover that the interests that led you to a degree in English may also be a great match for a career in operations or project management.”

The research that campus leaders are basing the program on, conducted by Burning Glass Technologies, indicates a skills gap between liberal arts students and those with more in-demand backgrounds — namely in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics realm, said Andrea Miller, the associate director for professional education at the university.

But the university won’t use the term “skills gap,” Miller said. The certificate simply provides another possibility for graduates, and it’s certainly not necessary for a liberal arts major to succeed, she said.

In 2013, Burning Glass, a software analytics company focused on studying labor, found that the salaries of liberal arts graduates with some additional technical skills averaged about…

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