Courtesy Westword’s Sam Levin, a fascinating newsletter sent by Rep. Mike Coffman at the end of last month. On the apparent fringe of yet another issue:
I think it is time to question whether a significant number of the majors taught at undergraduate institutions are a good investment. This relates to the taxpayers, who subsidize the cost of higher education by either bearing part of the cost at public institutions, or by subsidizing loan programs at private ones. Graduates, with liberal arts degrees, often find entry level jobs that are little better than what they would have gotten had they never attended college in the first place.
The question needs to be raised, during such challenging fiscal environments for both states and the federal government, whether taxpayers should only be subsidizing majors, or curriculums, that directly lead to employment in technically a related field. [Pols emphasis]
Got that? Unless you’re getting a degree that leads to “technical skills,” the government shouldn’t “subsidize” your education–which would presumably mean interest-subsidized student loans in addition to obvious things like Pell Grants. Now, it’s not a coincidence that all those liberal arts, social science, and other majors that don’t, in Coffman’s view, “directly lead to employment,” are the same ones that conservatives perennially complain are hotbeds of “liberal indoctrination.” So there’s that. But is it true that liberal arts degrees are useless in the job market as Coffman suggests? As if “they never attended college in the first place?”
Not according to FOX Business:
Liberal arts degrees get an unjustified bad rap, which is often perpetuated by anecdotal stories about a single person searching for a job, says Carole Haber, dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University.
“Two misconceptions fuel this discussion: one, that the ‘worth’ can be measured by dollars alone rather than through higher level skills gained through the degree, and two, that the value can be measured through the individual’s first job, rather than through the life course,” she says.
Liberal arts grads can have an advantage over their peers by potentially earning a higher salary in the future, says Lee.
“There has been data to suggest that even though liberal arts graduates in an entry-level position tend to earn less than their counterparts who have very career-focused [degrees], within 10 to 20 years they tend to outpace their counterparts in terms of income,” she says. [Pols emphasis]
On top of that, a report from the Social Science Research Council shows students with skills typically taught in liberal arts programs tend to be more successful after graduation.
There are a host of other benefits frequently cited to justify the economic value of a nontechnical degree, from proficiency in foreign languages to broad-based critical thinking skills. There are anecdotal scenarios on both sides of the issue–certainly there are both history majors and MBAs who have had employment problems–but there’s really nobody except for hard-core GOP politicians (like Florida Gov. Rick Scott) seriously arguing that these degrees have no redeeming value to either the economy or society. It actually comes across as quite radical.
As Westword reports, Coffman’s opponent ses an opening, and is hitting this one hard:
Ryan Hobart, a spokesman for [Joe] Miklosi, Coffman’s Democratic challenger, sent us this statement in response to the newsletter:
“Making these drastic cuts to state and federal support for higher education would have a damaging effect on Colorado’s economic growth. Mike Coffman also supports the radical Ryan budget, which would cut Pell Grants, allow student loan interest rates to double and end Medicare as we know it — all while keeping taxpayer giveaways to Big Oil and companies that ship jobs overseas. This is just another example of why his agenda of promoting reckless cuts that put the burden on the backs of students and seniors is too extreme for Colorado.”
To be fair, though, fewer history majors could benefit politicians who shoot off at the mouth.