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Santorum’s views on higher education divide readers


"The truth of the matter falls somewhere in between, and we should strive to develop or reinstitute programs to reflect that," said one reader. Copyright: Christopher Halloran.

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has criticized President Obama for encouraging more Americans to seek higher education, even going as far as to call the president a “snob” and noting that “a lot” of Americans have no desire to go to college. Is there any merit to his viewpoint?

We recently asked our readers what they think about the issue—and while one might assume Santorum’s comments would be poorly received among educators, some agreed that Santorum might have a point.

Some readers said President Obama is forgetting about important programs like career-training schools, while others believe Santorum’s comments dig at a larger stigma that exists in today’s culture: judging those who don’t hold a bachelor’s degree.

Here are five diverse viewpoints from our readers [comments edited for brevity]:

What about the economy?

“Santorum certainly hasn’t listened to business owners who need educated Americans to work for them. Does he really want to demote ‘a lot’ of Americans to the most meager economic status? All recent studies indicate that, without education, they will have just that. I agree with setting the goal of educating the public to the fullest extent possible. It is healthy for a democracy. Higher education comes in many forms: liberal arts, science and math, technical skills, art and music, vocational skills, online courses to improve or learn new skills. It is not snobbish to ask Americans to aspire to do their best, it is elitist to promote mediocrity for the middle and lower economic classes.” —David F. Withrow, director of technology, Harford Day School, Bel Air, Md.

“It’s an insensitive and ignorant remark by someone who obviously has his education under his belt already. Does he know that only 4% of Black and Hispanic males have a college degree? Furthermore, less than 60% of students are graduating from high school in the Chicago Public School system—counting approximately 500 schools. We need educated people to keep our democracy strong and embrace freedom in this great country of ours. [Santorum] is disconnected from the mainstream of America.” —Louise Eggert-Nevins

Many will never escape the death grip of poverty without a solid education. If someone doesn’t want to go to college, they don’t have to, but the fact that the President thinks it is important enough to try to ease the burden for those who do is a good thing.” —Tina Roberts

It’s about having the choice

“Obama wanted everyone to have the chance to go to college, not everyone had to go to college. Higher education after high school should be the goal of everyone, whether that be college, trade, technical, or vocational school. In a world that is increasingly technologically dependent, anything less would be a disgrace.” —Matt Chalmers, principal, Valley View Middle School, Valley View ISD, Valley View, Texas

“Not everyone goes to college. Not everyone can handle college. But everyone should have the opportunity to go to college. … There’s nothing wrong with encouraging everyone to go to college. Does this mean that I, as a high school English teacher, am a ‘snob’ for encouraging all my students to go to college? And college can be a trade school, too. Are they ‘snobs’ for going and becoming plumbers, carpenters, welders, computer technicians? I think not.” —Ed Hauck, Wilson High School, Long Beach, Calif.

“Personally, I think Mr. Santorum missed the whole point. The issue is making it possible for students of all backgrounds to be able to meet their goal of going to college if that is in their sights. Only a snob would assume that people from poor economic backgrounds may choose not to, simply because they ‘do not want to do so.’ It is also very difficult for students of middle-income families to be able to attend in this day and age of economic woes and poorly funded education by state and national governments. Mr. Santorum may have too much personal wealth to be able to understand how very difficult it is for the majority of the populace these days.” —Kathy Miller

“In what one can only imagine to be an attempt to connect with the ever illusive ‘ordinary’ American, Santorum again went over the cliff with his comments. While indeed not everyone has to go to college in order to be successful, everyone should have the opportunity! How many parents have no desire for their children to seek higher education? Isn’t that part and parcel of the American dream? Who would want a president who didn’t want everyone to have the opportunity for higher education?” —Anthony White, technology instructional specialist, Galena Park ISD

The discussion should center around how to make college, trade schools, and transition programs affordable. Every teenager will eventually be a 20-something, so let’s find a path: 4-year, JC, certificate, work internship…whatever, so they have an option other than living in mom’s basement at 29. Santorum, et al., need to get off the rhetoric and have a real solution with a real discussion with all involved. The 30-second sound bites won’t cut it.” —Ed McManis, head of school, Sterne School, San Francisco, Calif.

There should be more career training programs

“I agree and disagree with Mr. Santorum. There are plenty of students who have neither desire to go to college nor are they college ‘material.’ For these students that aren’t college-bound, there needs to be school to career training programs that have been removed from the American education system. I do not believe that President Obama is a ‘snob’ for encouraging more Americans to seek higher education; the President is just not realistic. There are professionsthat are dignified, provide a living wage, and do not require college degrees, but do require training; these are being completely ignored. If we are going to compare our schools to European schools, then we need to start offering vocational programs, internships, and apprenticeships to our students, because only 30% of European students attend university programs; the 70% receive technical training that take them from school to lucrative careers.” —Michelle Pahl Brown, library media specialist, Southwest Academy, Magnet School for Science & Engineering

“I teach in a small rural community, and I find that what Rick Santorum said is definitely true. We have some students who want to go into a family farm or family business who feel they have no need for a bachelor’s degree. We also have a large number of students interested in vocational careers such as welding, building trades, electrician and plumbing, air conditioning repair, chef school, cosmetology, computer careers, and even massage therapy. Some of these need vocational school training, and others need an apprenticeship. Academics is not the only path to success and happiness for them.” —Sherry A. Harris, professional educator, Journalism, English, Oral Communication, Psychology/Sociology, Fouke High School, Fouke, Ark.

Don’t judge based on a college degree

“I feel that every child should have the opportunity to attend college, but I don’t think every child should be made to feel they are less if they choose not to go to college. My son is a high school junior, and he is feeling the pressure to attend college—but he is still unsure if college is right for him now. He is thinking about the military or culinary school. I agree that every student should be encouraged to consider college, but not made to feel they are less valuable if they choose not to attend college. Some students are just not ready right out of high school (I worked a year and then attended college myself) and need the break or need to work first to realize that college is valuable for their future. The other factor to consider is the cost of college. Some students I know would love to attend college, but their parents can’t afford the cost and the students are afraid of the large student load debt. With the present high unemployment, students are more aware that college does not equal a guaranteed job when they graduate.” —Rita Lechlider, Marysville, Wash.

“Too many students today go to college because of peer and parental pressure, when they would be better served by learning a trade. Skilled tradesmen are in short supply in many areas and command good wages. Why go to college to take majors for which there is no demand in the workforce, incur heavy debt, and then find that the only job available is one that requires only a high school degree? College is not for everyone. It is a conceit to think so.” —Roger Burtner

“I am an educator, and I have some real worries with the way we all push college as the destination for everyone. Many students are not stellar academic students, and these students are dropping out of the system. They feel there is nothing for them. We are not addressing their needs and, in many cases, [are] making them feel inferior for their lack of academics. We do need to be pushing further education for these students, but not an academic college education. With training in a trade, these students could live very successful lives, and in many instances, make more money than the college-prepared students, but this direction has not been a respected direction in the push to send everyone to a college education. … What we need to say is everyone needs to have the opportunity to go to college, and if that is not for them, they need the opportunity to be trained for a job they can do to provide for themselves. We need to value their choice either way.” —Cindy Carson, BJHS, Health Sciences, Anatomy and Physiology

There’s a middle ground between Obama and Santorum

“As an educator of nearly twenty years, I believe the idea that not every student wants to or will go to college. No Child Left Behind was the beginning of an era where too many students have been pushed in directions that might not suit them. Funding and governmental policies have pushed out too many programs that used to prepare students for vocations other than jobs that required higher education. … Today’s environment of standardized testing and believing everyone will go to college are a bit off the mark and need to be adjusted to take into account these subtle nuances that non-educators never consider. Santorum might not have worded it so nicely, Obama may have lofty expectations, but the truth of the matter falls somewhere in between—and we should strive to develop or reinstitute programs to reflect that.” —Russell J. Holstein, educational technology specialist, Eugenio Maria DeHostos Intermediate School 318K, Academy of the Arts and Sciences, Brooklyn, N.Y.

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