In recent decades, higher education institutions have been increasingly called upon to prepare students for work after college. STEM programs in particular have been provided with increasing federal- and institutional-level support in order to meet the demands of a competitive global marketplace as well as to provide revenue generation for colleges and universities. At the same time, support for humanities programs, especially from the federal sources, have dwindled steadily since the 1970s. Although STEM degrees are perceived to be more relevant to the workplace and the economy, recent surveys of employers from different sectors of the economy have indicated that what they value most in recent college graduates is the ability to think innovatively. Due to extant literature suggesting that humanities undergraduate education may be better at fostering innovative thinking compared to STEM undergraduate education, this study sought to investigate if a difference indeed exists between humanities and STEM students’ end-of-college propensity toward innovation (PTI).
This mixed-methods study utilized national-level student survey data from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) for the quantitative phase and examined differences in outcomes between humanities and STEM students’ PTI as well as academic predictors of PTI. Sixteen participant interviews were utilized in the qualitative phase to explore why these academic experiences were particularly impactful as well as why humanities and STEM students may experience differential outcomes in PTI. Findings from the study revealed that humanities students tended to leave college with higher PTI even after controlling for important background and institutional characteristics. Findings also revealed that impactful academic experiences were highly influenced by epistemological and pedagogical differences between undergraduate humanities and STEM education.