How Can You Be Anti-College?

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During the many years that I have been writing a blog, I have intentionally and consciously avoided several topics. One in particular is political partisanship. While I share my views on issues, especially those related to education, I do my best to refrain from engaging in partisan rhetoric and candidate/party endorsements.

I do encourage people to engage in the political process. I urge people to vote and to spend time getting to know both the issues and the candidates. If you feel the need to watch reality TV, I would recommend C-Span or one of the many televised debates. What happens in our elections is reality and will impact our lives in significant ways.

I realize that political campaigns are full of rhetoric and candidates often feel that they can stretch the limits of free speech with their attempts to rally support. Although I agree that these campaign strategies are too often toxic and uncivil, it seems to be endemic to the political system.

While I still try to learn and understand what each of the candidates actually believes and would do if elected, it was startling to see a video clip of Rick Santorum campaigning in New Hampshire criticizing President Obama for his goal of access to higher education for every child in America. This is what Santorum said,

“Who are you? Who are you to say that every child in America go … I mean the hubris of this president to think that he knows what’s best for you. I … you know there is … I have seven kids. Maybe they’ll all go to college. But, if one of my kids wants to go and be an auto mechanic, good for him. That’s a good-paying job – using your hands and using your mind. This is the kind of, the kind of snobbery that we see from those who think they know how to run our lives. Rise up America. Defend your own freedoms.”

There are two fundamental fallacies in Santorum’s statement. First, President Obama has never suggested that children be required to attend college. Mr. Santorum can relax. Our freedoms as they relate to education are intact. We are all free to choose not to be educated. And according to national statistics, many of us (too many in my opinion) are exercising this freedom.

Second, as stated in a recent editorial by Charles Blow of the NY Times, even auto mechanics need education to learn the skills to fix cars. President Obama’s encouragement for at least one year of higher education would include trade schools, vocational training, community colleges, etc.

More important, however, if this is really Mr. Santorum’s view about the value of education, then I wonder if he understands the core issues related to our economic challenges and high unemployment. Here are the facts:

-       In the next five years, jobs requiring no less than an associate’s degree will grow twice as fast as those requiring no college experience.

-       The United States has fallen from 12th to 16th place in the share of adults (25-34 years old) holding degrees.

-       The United States ranks 30th out of 34 countries in people employed who hold no more than a high school diploma.

The facts are clear regardless of political party or rhetorical interest, education is the key to increased employment and global competitiveness. My own position on the need for education differs from that of President Obama. I think he has set his educational goals too low. We need more college graduates. We need more graduates with advanced degrees.

I understand that political campaigns seem to require criticism of the incumbent and the multiple rivals. But education is too important an issue to trivialize. The more important question is how we will make higher education accessible and affordable. These topics are worthy of a debate!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Wednesday, 16 April 2014