College Guide


February 27, 2012 3:33 PM The Anti-College Policy

By Daniel Luzer

Late last month presidential candidate Rick Santorum announced that he believed that American colleges to be centers for liberal political indoctrination. And then last weekend, in a speech in Michigan, he apparently said “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

This particular rhetoric seems to be effective. According to an article by Jena McGregor at the Washington Post:

We have now reached the once unthinkable point in this presidential race where even higher education has come up for debate. At a time when our global competitors are churning out engineers and scientists at a faster and faster rate; at a time when the industries of the future require not only a college education, but more and more advanced degrees; and at a time when the economy is becoming more demanding of innovation than ever before, one of the leading candidates for the GOP nomination calls the president a “snob” for wanting “everybody in America to go to college.” Really?

Now this sort of thing doesn’t really make much sense (urging an education reform like getting everyone to to college is hardly a sign of snobbery; a snob would merely look down upon someone who didn’t go to college) but the line generated applause.

This is puzzling. It perhaps appeals to a certain particularly disenfranchised segment of the Michigan population, but as a policy suggestion it’s a recipe for disaster. Perhaps Santorum, who has both an MBA and law degree, was attempting to identify himself as a supporter of the working class. Good luck with that. McGregor again:

What’s even more confounding about Santorum’s comments is that he did not need to make them. As Peter Wehner points out over at Commentary, there is an element of truth in what he said—college is not for everyone. But Santorum chose to use overheated and overstated language that goes beyond what most voters need to hear to be convinced he is not like the “snobby” president or, for that matter, his very wealthy GOP opponent. Santorum can’t seem to help himself from saying things designed to sound bold or courageous but that come off as outlandish.

Sure, some people don’t need to go to college. Current policy works pretty well at keeping them out. Less than 30 percent of Americans now have a college degree. Is Santorum saying that percentage is too high?

I await the jobs plan that will help working-class Americans obtain living wage jobs without any education beyond high school. Let’s go, Santorum campaign.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Willie on February 27, 2012 11:02 PM:

    The imprecise use of the word "college" needs to stop if people actually want to talk about policy in this area. For example, you say: "Less than 30 percent of Americans now have a college degree." The link you provide notes that 29 percent of Americans have bachelor's degrees. So, you're equating college with a bachelor's degree, which is what most people do. But then you say: "Is Santorum saying that percentage is too high? I await the jobs plan that will help working-class Americans obtain living wage jobs without any education beyond high school." Wait. Now you're saying college equals "education beyond high school"?

    When we say college for all, do we mean "a bachelor's degree for all" or "education beyond high school for all"? There's a huge difference and there are very different policy implications.

  • Daniel on February 28, 2012 11:44 AM:

    @Willie: Santorum clearly is referring to the bachelor's degree, even if that represents a gross misrepresentation of Obama's actual views on postsecondary education.

    Since Santorum has made no reference for plans to create any significant postsecondary vocational training programs, however, all we've got is an opposition to the bachelor's degree.