LaGuardia English Professor Dr. Gordon Tapper Co-authors MLA Report Focusing on Job Salaries and Career Preparation and Outcomes for English Majors

LaGuardia English Professor Dr. Gordon Tapper Co-authors MLA Report Focusing on Job Salaries and Career Preparation and Outcomes for English Majors

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY (April 11, 2024) English majors enjoy employment rates and peak salaries like those of college graduates of all majors, according to a new report from the Modern Language Association’s Association of Departments of English (ADE). Despite the pervasive myth that English majors have limited career prospects, Dr. Gordon Tapper, Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, says the “Report on English Majors’ Career Preparation and Outcomes,” concludes that English majors find jobs and earn good salaries.

Dr. Tapper recently served as a member of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on English Major’s Career Preparation and Outcomes who wrote the report release in late March. Dr. Tapper joined Dr. Rachel Arteaga, Associate Director, Simpson Center for the Humanities, University of Washington; Dr. Jacqueline Jenkins, Professor of English from the University of Calgary; Dr. Peter Joseph Kalliney, Professor of English from the University of Kentucky; and Dr. Jené Schoenfeld, Professor of English from Kenyon College.

The report draws on government datasets that have been aggregated by peer organizations and acknowledges that English majors have real concerns about the job market and makes a series of recommendations about how programs can better support students’ career preparation.

Dr. Tapper says there are some misconceptions students have about majoring in English.

“The most common—and perhaps the most damaging—misconception that students have is that if they major in English, it will be hard to find a job and earn a good salary,” Dr. Tapper said. “In fact, the employment rate for English majors with a bachelor’s degree is close to 100% and their salaries are similar to most other college majors. One of the main goals of the MLA report is to correct these misconceptions by providing students, parents, faculty, and administrators with authoritative, reliable information about the employment outcomes for English majors.”

Dr. Tapper and the other authors discovered in their research that in 2018, the unemployment rate was 2.17% for all college graduates with a bachelor’s degree and 2.3% for English majors.

“Students will probably be surprised to learn that in 2018, English majors had a better employment rate than computer and information services majors, who had a 2.8% unemployment rate,” he said. “English majors who obtain their bachelor’s degree also make good salaries. The median career peak annual earnings for all college graduates in 2018 was $78,000; for English majors, it was $76,000. This data should be reassuring for prospective majors worried about finding a well-paying job.”

The report states that institutions have a responsibility to provide robust career preparation support to students concerned about finding a fulfilling career, and the report makes a series of recommendations regarding how to best provide this support. Communication strategies aimed at educating current and prospective students about career pathways available to English majors and about the ways that skills gained from English coursework prepare students for the workforce are an important part of this support.

Dr. Tapper says in some ways English majors are at an advantage when competing in the job market.

“One of the strengths of the English major is that career pathways for English graduates are incredibly diverse,” Dr. Tapper says. “English majors develop skills and habits of mind that are highly valued by employers in many fields. As a result, students are not locked into a specific career path, as with many professional degrees, and this is an advantage that opens up many possibilities.

Many studies show that students with English degrees are equipped with some of the most transferable workplace skills,” Dr. Tapper adds. “These include how to write and speak effectively; how to analyze qualitative data through close reading and critical thinking; how to conduct research; and a heightened awareness of the value of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

Dr. Tapper says one of the misconceptions that sometime dissuades students from majoring in English is that English majors think they will have to become a teacher, a writer, or go into publishing.

“In fact, only about 20% of English majors become teachers (including all levels–elementary, secondary, and college),” he says. “The majority go into other careers, including law, marketing, advertising, public relations, corporate and non-profit management, the media and entertainment industries, the hi-tech sector; and community and social services.”

The report includes case studies from eight institutions with impressive career preparation programming. These institutions have made career preparation programming an integral part of the English major, and faculty members share their various approaches to ensuring that their students understand the opportunities available to English majors. An emphasis on experiential learning that integrates internships with courses has proved invaluable for students, as has highlighting alumni stories, hosting career panels, and offering courses that explicitly connect skill building to career exploration.

Dr. Tapper says the work he and his colleagues conducted for the report has allowed for further pedological discussions about English in higher education.

“There has been a major shift to a style of teaching that is interactive and student-centered, which is more likely to engage students than the old-fashioned lecture courses that used to dominate English and other fields,” Dr. Tapper said. “On the most fundamental level, this is the kind of teaching that is most likely to get students excited about how a poem, a story, or other literary texts deepen our understanding of the human experience; how these texts are constructed; and how these texts are embedded in historical and cultural developments.

“My work on the MLA report has shown me that it is crucial for English professors to become much more explicit in our courses about how doing things like analyzing a short story will in fact prepare students for personally fulfilling and financially rewarding careers,” Dr. Tapper adds. “Even in courses that are not primarily about career preparation, we should enable our students to see how the analysis of complex texts and their historical context equips them with the communication and research skills that are highly valued in a wide range of professional fields. Students should major in English both because studying literature is intrinsically valuable, and because the skills they acquire have a market value that will set them up for rewarding careers.”

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LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC), a Hispanic-Serving Institution, located in Long Island City, Queens offers more than 50 degrees and certificates, and more than 65 continuing education programs to educate New Yorkers seeking new skills and careers. As an institution of the City University of New York (CUNY), the College reflects the legacy of our namesake, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the former NYC mayor beloved for his advocacy of underserved populations. Since 1971, LaGuardia’s academic programs and support services have advanced the socioeconomic mobility of students while providing them with access to a high quality, affordable college education.


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