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Santorum's Hypocritical Higher Ed Comments Perpetuate Class Issue

Posted: 03/ 1/2012 1:53 pm

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently argued with President Obama's desire for every U.S. student to obtain the opportunity to go to college. "What a snob," he said. "There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, who aren't taught by some liberal college professor (who) tries to indoctrinate them. I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image."

These comments are not only problematic on a singular level, but they are also reflective of dangerous ideas about higher education that make it a class issue. Santorum's current views on higher education are not specifically isolated to his own campaign but also speak to other elitist sentiments around which students are given the opportunity to attend college -- and why -- on a larger scale.

Even in 2012, higher education still revolves around issues of race and class. This idea that "not everyone needs to go to college" fails to acknowledge the specific students that get ignored and silenced as a result of the races and classes they're born into -- but this prejudiced ideology at the university level is still alive and well. It was only last week that Anne Spurzem, Smith College alumna, wrote a letter to the editor published in the school newspaper about her immense dissatisfaction with the increasing amount of diversity present at this single-sex institution.

"I can tell you that the days of white, wealthy, upper class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over," Spurzem said. "This is unfortunate because it is this demographic that puts their name on buildings, donates great art and subsidizes scholarships."

In addition to this letter to the editor, Inside Higher Ed released a report in September 2011 that revealed a top goal for admissions directors at colleges and universities nationwide is to prioritize applicants who can pay tuition in full over -- 10 percent of four-year colleges reported that admitted full-pay students have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants.

Santorum's comments only further this notion of higher education as a class issue -- he is perpetuating an elitist attitude that embodies a financial divide between U.S. students. The hypocrisy around this issue also complicates his original statement; the candidate himself holds two degrees in higher education -- a law degree and a master's education in business -- and his eldest daughter Elizabeth Santorum current attends the University of Dallas.

Personal experiences aside, the New York Times' Choice Blog reports that despite Santorum's recent comments against about higher education and snobbery, his 2006 United States Senate campaign Website in 2006 demonstrated that the candidate politically supported equal access to education and wanted all Pennsylvania students to attend college.

It's important for students to understand that it's not acceptable for Santorum to call President Obama a "snob" for wanting all Americans to have the opportunity to achieve a college degree, especially when the candidate has taken advantage of higher education himself and even supported these same ideas in 2006.

If the United States wants to compete in a global economy and revive our domestic financial stability, more students need to attend and graduate from college. This does not mean, however, that there is one specific cookie-cutter means of achieving a higher education degree, nor does it mean that all students will be subjected to "liberal college professors who try to indoctrinate them."

Everyone's college experiences look different and embody alternative visions of ultimately achieving an education that will springboard into greater success. President Obama responded to this misconception about his higher education goals at the White House on Monday by reinforcing the notion that each individual's college experience should be unique to their own needs.

"When I speak about higher education, we are not just talking about a four-year degree," he said. "We are talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring someone walking through the door handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can't go in there unless they have some basic training beyond what they received in high school."

 

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