Editorial: The politics of education – Northside Sun

We reflected recently on the growing education gap between men and women in America — bemoaning, among other things, the decline in the percentage of males completing high school and attending college.

Apparently related to this trend is a growing gap in higher educational attainment according to political affiliation. Democrats are more likely to value and pursue a college degree than Republicans.

Writing for USA Today, Daniel A. Cox of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, recently outlined just how much the two parties have diverged in recent years in their attitudes toward college.

Citing a survey conducted last fall by the Public Religion Research Institute, Cox said that only 37% of Republicans, turned off by what they see as an increasingly liberal bent on college campuses, now say that college is a smart investment, down 15 points from just five years earlier. As a result, Republican parents are less likely than Democratic parents to encourage their children to attend college.

There are a lot of reasons to worry about this trend. As Cox points out, individuals on both sides of the political spectrum should be concerned.

For conservatives, downplaying a college degree most likely will relegate their children to earning less over the course of their lifetime. That’s not the only negative consequence, however. According to Cox, there is a body of research showing that those without a college degree are more likely to suffer from depression, have a greater need for government assistance and experience higher rates of divorce. There are also social advantages to attending college, since that’s often where young adults form lifelong friendships. “College graduates today have a larger number of close friends, are less likely to feel lonely and have more extensive social support than those who did not attend,” Cox wrote.

For liberals, the downsides are more theoretical but none the less real. When college campuses are perceived as brain-washing institutions of liberalism, it creates less support for them among those in public office, and thus of taxpayer funding. Furthermore, the intellectual and social development of college students is stifled if they are only exposed to a narrow set of viewpoints.

College is a temporary cocoon. When graduation day comes and students are thrown into the real world, they need to know how to interact with those who have a different perspective than their own. The best colleges welcome all viewpoints,  teach their students how to debate the issues with civility and challenge them to look at the world through not only their own eyes but those of others.

When that doesn’t happen, colleges see diminished popular support, which in turn births politicians who demagogue against intellectualism and portray the college-educated as out-of-touch elitists.

In a nation that is losing its edge as a leader in education, this is not a trend to encourage.

Whether one agrees with Cox’s premise that most colleges don’t value conservatives and their values, he is right that the nation will suffer if a large percentage of the population loses its trust and respect for higher education. It will further divide the country into warring, uncompromising camps, which no one should desire.

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