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.
photo courtesy of CCAC North Library via Flickr