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Only One in Four State Reps Have a College Degree: Does it Matter?

Only One in Four State Reps Have a College Degree: Does it Matter?

If elected representatives are supposed to represent the values of their constituents, then a new report that shows about one in four elected representatives across the country do not have a four-year college degree might help explain why colleges and universities have taken the brunt of the state budgeting cuts.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, about 72 percent of adults nationwide do not have a four-year college degree, compared to their relatively-better educated representatives.

The report raises some interesting questions about the role, need and effectiveness of higher education, particularly as it relates to the democratic process.

If only 25% of our elected officials see the benefit or value in higher education, can we really expect them to support its funding?  Alternatively, if constitencies largely continue to see a four-year degree as either optional or unattainable, can we ever expect the funding issues for our state colleges and universities to change?

Certainly possessing a college degree (at a minimum) is no guarantee that a person will be an effective legislator or engaged representative.  But does having at least some college experience, shape the kind of policy that representative is likely to endorse?

Based on just the raw data it is hard to come to any clear conclusion.  California leads the nation in most-educated legislators, where 90 percent of lawmakers hold at least a bachelor’s degree.  California is followed by Virginia (89 percent), Nebraska (87 percent), New York (87 percent) and Texas (86 percent).  New Jersey leads the nation with the most legislators holding advanced degrees at 59 percent.

Certainly if one looked at the legislation sponsored in those states they would find policy issues that ran the gamut from liberal to conservative, supportive of education and critical.

So instead of trying to find some correlation in votes to degree, perhaps the study is best used to show that higher education serves a complicated and multi-faceted role in our society and in our democracy.  Starting there could change the debate that surrounds funding, staffing and curriculum of our public institutions, and by changing the debate to recognize that education can never be all things to all people, we can start to craft some viable comprehensive solutions to the challenges facing our institutions and our country.

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photo courtesy of CCAC North Library via Flickr

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46 comments

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5:33AM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

Most American can't afford to go to college and amass $200,000 in debt after 4 years. While a college degree might be better, the reality is most Americans can't afford it unless your rich like most republicans.

10:32PM PDT on Aug 2, 2011

Unlike many people I hear in the tea party, I WANT my legislators to be smarter than me, not just like me. I would hope that more education gives people more facts and thinking/reasoning power, and that would translate into wiser legislation.

10:10PM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

Very interesting...

2:24PM PDT on Jun 22, 2011

A college degree is important, but its not all.The thing is, politicians should have peoples best interests no matter what.That is what really matters. They need to know how to represent the electorate and correspond to what they expect from him.

6:00AM PDT on Jun 17, 2011

Why do so many jobs have so many requirements, while being a politician only requires that one is breathing, sometimes. If there are no standards than we will keep getting what we have already gotten, garbage.

5:09PM PDT on Jun 15, 2011

@ Gary Heck. Words of Wisdom Gary,Words of Wisdom!

"What a college degree does, is show you are willing to work hard enough and long enough to achieve a goal. It shows you are capable of learning. It doesn't mean you know more than anyone else but it does mean your mind is open enough to learn new things, to look at things in different ways, to change your opinions and views and help you recognize wisdom when you see it. However, the most important thing an education gives you is the realization that the more you learn, the more you understand how little you actually know."-Gary Heck

"This is the value of an education and why education is so important for political leaders to understand."-Gary Heck

Unfortunately, there are politicians who love having a less educated electorate. This is simply because it is easier to deceive uneducated, unsuspecting voters? This is easily confirmed by how easy it is for the repub's and the tea party to con their followers!

1:35PM PDT on Jun 15, 2011

Well, many of us have noticed that Jessica is NOT a stickler for accurate details... some times she gets confused and other times they don't support her point of view, so she makes them into what she wants hoping no one will actually attempt to verify her statements. Besides 25% versus 75%... that is pretty close, isn't it???

9:19AM PDT on Jun 15, 2011

The title of this article and the first paragraph contradict each other. No wonder readers are confused.

3:23AM PDT on Jun 15, 2011

With some of the stupidity spouted by politicians at the moment I think better education would have benefitted a lot of them. However, a degree can't stop greed and a individual's complete contempt for those less well off than themselves.

8:27PM PDT on Jun 14, 2011

Um, did anyone take a good look at the source article? It says that one in four legislators DO NOT have a degree.

That means 75% are college graduates, much higher than the overall 28% of American adults.

...though technically that makes it even more puzzling that lawmakers keep cutting education spending.

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