MORE

Mike Coffman questions the value of liberal-arts majors, Joe Miklosi pounces

Update below: The time has come to question whether many liberal arts degrees are really worth it. So says Representative Mike Coffman in a recent newsletter, in which he also admits to regretting his own political science major and notes that he probably would've been better off primarily studying business.

Coffman's opponent Joe Miklosi is now jumping on these comments, portraying them as preposterous statements broadly attacking higher education.

Here are some excerpts, from Coffman's newsletter, which was sent out August 31 and was recently brought to our attention (the full letter is below):

When I meet with young people, who are just out of college, attending these fairs, I always ask them what they majored in. Far too often, it is a four-year degree that doesn't give them the technical skills that directly leads them to employment. Now, they not only can't find a job from their four-year degree, but often burdened with debt from their student loans.

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.

A section at the end of this letter adds the following about Coffman's background:

I graduated from the University of Colorado, in 1979, with a BA in Political Science. No doubt, I would have been better off had I majored in Business and taken courses in Political Science as electives.

Debates about student loans and access to higher education have gotten a platform in the presidential race. Unemployment is also a major talking point nationally, and in this newsletter, Coffman seems to imply that many college students are graduating jobless in large part because of their impractical liberal-arts majors.

This topic is now causing some back-and-forth between the two candidates, who are battling to represent Colorado's sixth district, a redistricted area that now includes parts of Aurora.

Ryan Hobart, a spokesman for 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.

Following up on the phone, Hobart tells us that the Miklosi campaign was very surprised by the sentiments expressed in the newsletter.

"This was a fairly unexpected, unprovoked statement from him," Hobart says. "It seems like a very drastic suggestion."

Continue reading for additional statements from a Coffman spokesman clarifying the message of the newsletter.   When asked to clarify the policy implications behind the newsletter -- what Coffman is proposing and to what extent he is questioning the value of liberal arts -- Owen Loftus, his campaign spokesman, sent us this statement:

Congressman Coffman believes that we need to encourage more students to major in fields that are in demand and will provide decent paying jobs for their graduates. He just thinks that all institutions of higher education ought to be more honest with their students from the beginning about what the employment prospects realistically are for the different degree programs that they offer.

Update, 2:30 p.m. September 14: After publishing, Loftus sent us this additional statement in response to Miklosi's statements:

Denver's state representative, Joe Miklosi did nothing to ease the skyrocketing prices of tuition at Colorado's state universities and colleges. Not only that, but his tax increases have made it more difficult for students and middle class families to afford a college education. Congressman Coffman has always been a champion of higher education. While Joe was working to push college out of reach for Colorado's students, Mike successfully worked across the aisle to keep student loan rates from doubling.

For his part, Hobart says students with a broad range of degrees, including political science, can go on to be successful in a wide variety of fields.

"Suggesting [liberal arts] degrees...are less valuable is a hard evaluation for him to make just in general," Hobart says. "People can go on to have successful careers in business, law, government, public service.

"Trying to focus any of these cuts on higher education is not going to help the economic situation we are in," he maintains.

By the way, recent press releases from Coffman's campaign have focused on unemployment and blasted Miklosi for not talking about poor job numbers in Colorado.

Ultimately, Hobart says, the newsletter seems rather strange, particularly given Coffman's background. "It's a pretty rich statement coming from someone who got a political science degree," he says.

Here's the full letter:

Dear Friends:

I've conducted a number of job fairs in this Congressional District over last few years. I have found they are generally attended by individuals who are either out of work, those who are working part time but want a full time job, or by those who are simply in search of a better career opportunity.

When I meet with young people, who are just out of college, attending these fairs, I always ask them what they majored in. Far too often, it is a four-year degree that doesn't give them the technical skills that directly leads them to employment. Now, they not only can't find a job from their four-year degree, but often burdened with debt from their student loans.

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 [sic], that directly lead to employment in technically a related field.

I graduated from the University of Colorado, in 1979, with a BA in Political Science. No doubt, I would have been better off had I majored in Business and taken courses in Political Science as electives. Such a degree would have been extremely useful when I started my own business after returning home from the Marines in 1983.

No doubt, these are hard questions, but these are also hard times. I worry that so many college students today may be setting themselves up for the unemployment line once they go through the commencement line.

Sincerely,

Mike Coffman U.S. Representative

More from our Politics archive: "Where's Mike Coffman? website targets congressman -- and his campaign hits back."

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >