The politics of college

Rick Santorum recently said something that left even the most charitable of us scratching our heads: “President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

Now, as usual the media uproar doesn’t bother to give the full context. Santorum continued by saying, “There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor.” So in that context, what he said is correct. We shouldn’t measure someone’s worth by whether or not they have a college degree.

That said, calling Obama a snob for wanting everyone to go to college is kinda like Bill Cosby spitting on Junior Barnes after first missing him with a snowball he’d been saving for years. Santorum could have made numerous other points about Obama’s college-for-all plan, most of which would have been much, much more effective.

Like, for example, pointing out simple economics. The more easily obtained something is, the less valuable it becomes. If everyone is driving a Cadillac, no one will be impressed by that anymore. If everyone has a college education then employers will just have to make the job requirements more difficult in order to weed out applicants. A job that used to require a bachelor’s degree would now, for example, require a master’s degree.

Furthermore, jobs that used to never require a college degree could now demand one–and still pay what they paid before. Why not? The only people who won’t have a college degree are either the people who absolutely refuse to get one (unless Obama intends to make it a criminal offense not to), or for whatever reason are unable to perform at the level to get one (in which case, would they lower graduation requirements, making the degree even more meaningless?). 

All that is accomplished by making everyone get a college degree is to waste four years of people’s time without good cause. People who could be working jobs that previously didn’t require a college degree would lose four years of earning potential while likely racking up debt they shouldn’t have needed. People who used to be able to get into their chosen field with just a bachelors degree will now have to continue on and get a masters degree, giving up more prime earning years and accruing more debt.

So I don’t believe wanting everyone to get a college degree makes Obama a snob. But I do think that makes him someone who wasn’t paying attention in college. How can anyone get a college education and come away believing that simply creating more college graduates will magically create more college degree level jobs? Sending everyone through firefighter school doesn’t mean there will be more fires to fight. It simply means you’ll be able to pay firefighters less, because there will be an abundance of trained firefighters desperate for a job.

I would have failed my college economics class thinking the way Obama does on this. Dr. Vrooman would have fallen on his sword in shame. All it will accomplish is to make America the country with the best-educated, most indebted lawnmower operators in the world. It’d be like that commercial where the college president is handing out diplomas to graduates as fast as they come out of the photocopier. College degrees will come to mean about as much as the High School diploma or GED does now, but cost a whole lot more in terms of lost production and student loan debt.

I’d rather Obama be a snob than demonstrate such lack of comprehension of basic economic concepts.