Walker’s ‘elitist’ college critique unproductive


Christina Coleburn, Senior Editor

As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker surged in polls among prospective GOP presidential candidates last week, he ignited a debate about the value of a college degree. The controversy stems from the fact that Walker left 34 credits short of graduation from Marquette University to work at the American Red Cross. The likely 2016 contender fired back at those who suggested his lack of a bachelor’s degree was concerning, saying in an interview on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” that the criticism was “elitist.” Although discussions about the utility of a college diploma are worth exploring from a variety of socioeconomic angles, it is unproductive for elected officials to frame the conversation with the parameters of elitism. It is true that candidates’ records, proposals and ideas should be more carefully considered than their college education, but dismissing the debate surrounding college degrees as elitist oversimplifies the issue’s complexity.

Pursuing higher education may not be the right path for every person. About two-thirds of Americans have not graduated from college. There are professions in high demand that do not require college diplomas, such as information technicians or product promoters. Prominent education officials have also said degrees do not necessarily equate to success. This is important to consider when nearly 70 percent of 2013 graduates left college with approximately $30,000 in student loan debt.
Walker — who, if elected, would be the 12th president without a college diploma    even noted that companies like Apple and Facebook were started by individuals who dropped out of
a university.

These examples demonstrate that the value of college is contested, but the reality is that many Americans are still attending college to meet the demands of the changing market. Data indicates  that college has a sound return on investment, and the pay disparity between those with four-year diplomas and those without continues to grow. Nearly 40 percent of working-age Americans have earned bachelor’s degrees, which jobs increasingly require. The concern is not joining elitist ranks; it is adapting to the structural changes of
the economy.

When young Americans choose to invest in higher education, they must consider several complicated factors. Affordability, student debt, career opportunities and employability extend beyond the parameters of bragging rights. Walker’s apathetic dismissal of the matter is detached — particularly given that his state budget proposed  slashing $300 million over two years from Wisconsin’s public universities. While the governor’s legislative record should be voters’ prime consideration, Walker should abandon the critique of elitism. Instead, he should direct his energy toward maximizing the value of a university education for the Wisconsin residents who choose to
invest in it.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 23 print edition. Email Christina Coleburn at [email protected].