Published on 2012/03/23

In Defense Of Post-Secondary Education

Rick Santorum’s now famous diatribe against higher education, in which he labeled Obama a “snob” for wanting all Americans to commit to a year of further education, led Judith Scott-Clayton, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, to speak out.

In her post, she first tackles the myth that those who “do”, those who work in manufacturing, don’t need to go to college, but should pursue vocational or on-the-job training. However, she points out that most vocational training and job training is offered by community colleges. It’s also worth pointing out that numerous employers actually develop partnerships with colleges to provide those highly-specific skills to their workforce.

Second, she tackles the myth that highly successful people haven’t needed university—the typical examples being Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Beyond the fact that both dropped out of Harvard, suggesting a higher-than-average intellect to begin with, Scott-Clayton argues that both individuals capitalized on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for themselves, not a model for everyone to follow.

Ultimately, Scott-Clayton says, there is no particular group of individuals who should not go to college, as Santorum would have us believe. Rather, there is simply a large group of people who just don’t want to go to college.

She points out that the personal and psychological investment required from higher education students is no small thing, and that many students will turn away from the academy because of the work they must put in, or simply because they don’t know about the breadth of programs available to them.

Ultimately, says Scott-Clayton, college isn’t for everyone, but not for the same reasons Santorum gives. She feels the ideal situation is one where the prospective student’s decision to drop out or not enroll is informed, unrelated to family background and not the result of unequal access to good institutions.

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