Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guest Post: "What a Snob": Is Santorum Right about Higher Education?

Rick Santorum's now infamous comment in which he called Obama a snob for wanting everyone to go to college was widely criticized and ridiculed. Santorum, obviously, chose some extreme words to voice the discontents of his culturally conservative supporters—those who are likely without a college degree and are struggling to make ends meet. This is blatant pandering at its cheapest, but as someone who attended a private, top twenty university, I wonder if Santorum, in his own simple-minded way, may be onto something that makes at least a smidgeon of sense.

A recent New York Times article cut through the rhetoric to point to an indisputable truth using facts and statistics—if you are already from an affluent family, you will do well in college; if you aren't from an affluent family, you are much less likely to enroll, and even if you do, you are much less likely to graduate. The reasons for this are various, and much of it has to do with the astronomically rising cost of college tuition. Now most universities do make concessions for admitted students who come from lower-income families. Many offer impressive financial aid packages to families who cannot afford the cost. According to the NYT article, however, grants are becoming fewer and far between, while loans, which can sink students, low-income ones especially, knee-deep in a lifetime of debt, have become substantially more popular.

Going beyond the statistics, there's another problem I see with institutions of higher education, selective colleges especially, that directly causes this reproduction ad inifinitum of an insulated, privileged class that may have a degree but has little understanding or concern for the world around them. And that's the student culture that many of these institutions, whether knowingly or not, breed. In my experience at a supposedly "top" school, learning was reduced to an obsessive focus on only making the grade, and not necessarily absorbing new concepts or ideas. Some of the most intelligent people I've ever met in my life talked only about their future careers in investment banking or whatever industry would make them the most amount of money as soon as they graduated.

Anti-intellectualism in America has had a long history, as evidenced by Richard Hofstatder's breathtaking classic work Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. While this pervasive cultural attitude toward intellectual pursuits is one that will be difficult to overcome, I do believe that the resentment that Santorum tapped into by calling college-educated people "snobs" has less to do with criticizing scholarship as it has to do with criticizing this entrenched attitude in which the university system becomes a manufacturer of a privileged class that cares only for money and power.

Universities can stop their path to becoming essentially snob factories once they make a concerted effort to recruit hard-working, intelligent students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and make the cost affordable, instead of merely paying lip service to "diversity." More than just this, universities must also focus on diversity of thought, and a return to what a university education once stood for—a place where students came together with professors to learn how to think for themselves.


By-line:

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi!

Continents and cultures away, it somehow reminds of the way we in India choose branches for engineering and management, if we get a good rank in the entrance(read,elimination) exam.

The sole parameter that we consider is the placement of a particular branch in last 5 years rather than our own aptitude for the same. This was beautifully captured in a flick called "3 Idiots" where the trio calls one such guy a walking and alive "profit-loss statement" and "price tag".
Would love to comment on many of your other posts as well.....waiting for the right moment.
Tilak

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