What Arts and Business Majors Have in Common

What Arts and Business Majors Have in Common

Angie Miller, Amber Dumford, Sally Gaskill, Rebecca Houghton, and Steven Tepper
Previous research from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) suggests that while many arts alumni have entrepreneurial career paths, they may not be learning the much-needed accompanying business and financial skills during their undergraduate careers. As part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the researchers developed the NSSE Senior Transitions Topical Module, a set of items concerning career plans and confidence in skills. Findings from this current study focus on differences in career plans and acquired skills across major fields. In terms of future career plans, arts and business majors were the most likely to plan for self-employment, and also for starting their own businesses. However, arts majors lacked confidence in their acquired business and entrepreneurial skills, which suggests incongruence between curriculum and career skills for these students.

Thanks to a research grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, SNAAP and NSSE collaborated in 2015 to explore the career plans and perceived acquired skills of graduating seniors in the arts as compared to those in other disciplines. Over 31,000 second-semester seniors from 127 institutions ranging from small baccalaureate colleges to large research universities responded to the newly-developed NSSE Senior Transitions Topical Module.

Regarding career planning, arts majors planned more than all other majors to be self-employed someday (Figure 1) and were second only to humanities majors to have “no plans” for immediately after graduation.  Arts and communications majors were most likely to report immediate plans for an internship (paid or unpaid). Many arts majors also planned to start their own businesses someday, suggesting some relatively nontraditional career paths among students majoring in the arts.

Compared to all other majors, arts majors had the highest perceived levels of several creative skills learned in their degree programs. Specifically, arts majors reported the highest confidence in their creative thinking and problem-solving skills, and indicated their coursework emphasized concepts and practices related to creativity.

More than other majors, arts majors planned for careers including entrepreneurship and self-employment—matching the realities of the creative workforce. Yet, while having confidence in the creative skills certainly needed for this type of work, arts majors expressed less confidence than other majors in their business and financial skills – especially when compared to business majors who also had plans for self-employment and starting businesses (Figure 2). This lack of confidence puts arts majors at a disadvantage not only as they begin their careers, but also places them at risk for a significant skills gap and an insufficient foundation in business and entrepreneurship knowledge, according to previous SNAAP findings (Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, 2012),.


Figure 1. Plan to be Self-Employed, Independent Contractor, or Freelance Worker Someday



Figure 2. “Very Much” Confidence in Financial and Business Skills, by Selected Majors



Miller, A.L., Dumford, A.D., Gaskill, S., Houghton, R., & Tepper, S.J.  (2016). To be or not to be (an arts major): Career aspirations and perceived skills of graduating seniors across multiple disciplines (SNAAP Special Report for the National Endowment for the Arts).  Bloomington, IN: Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University, School of Education.

Full report available online: https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/Research-Art-Works-Indiana.pdf