Annu Subramanian: It isn’t a partisan issue: College is worth it, and we all have to prove why

Liberals love to point to the anti-intellectualism of conservatives.

The liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote this Saturday that the GOP “has as its fundamental goal not just a rollback of the welfare state but a rollback of the Enlightenment.” According to the left, some members of the Republican party think that a college degree is not necessary to succeed.

Whether it’s by painting the GOP as the party that hates college, hates data or hates reason, this idea of conservative anti-intellectualism has become a bumper sticker mantra for Democrats.

Now here’s the thing: College opens doors for students to a range of opportunities and exposes them to a number of backgrounds, thoughts, religions, politics and interests.

And I fear that if people continue to dismiss college as a money pit with little value, a trade school approach will trump what could be four years of exploring history, philosophy, consciousness and society.

But with aisle-crossing conventional wisdom that college might not be as necessary as it is touted today, or that academic knowledge does not mirror practical knowledge, higher education is rapidly losing relevance. And when we hear stories about some of the most successful businessmen and leaders today being college dropouts, it is natural to question whether or not a college degree is even necessary.

Our political leaders have added to our skepticism: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Oct. 18 that higher education’s key problems are “high prices, low completion rates and too little accountability,” issues that former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also stated throughout his campaign. But these issues need to be resolved, not reframed and blamed.

Many conservative politicians have bemoaned the fact that Democrats appoint professors rather than people from “the real world.” Conservatives who are looking for people with “real world” experience in politics might be skeptical of political cabinets packed with academics. Academics, they believe, work in a sphere separate from the actual economy, and don’t have the practical know-how to manage the real world.

But it’s our job as members of the higher education community to prove why academics are qualified for these jobs too.

I wrote about this last semester, when I criticized Rick Santorum’s dismissal of college as “indoctrination mills” that strip students of their faith (April 5, p. 4). It’s a close-minded view of both atheism and the power of exposure to a range of beliefs. Many conservatives still ignore science and assert that global warming isn’t real. Removing evolution from textbooks is, for the most part, a far-right cause.

Even though not every conservative who knocks a candidate’s higher education background believes the term “intellect” can be swapped with “horrid trait that should be rooted out of politics at all costs,” the fact remains: Many people are skeptical of the value of college. People from across the political spectrum are pointing out higher education’s weaknesses.

And that’s a problem that requires immediate attention – not a simple reframing that blames one political party and leaves solving it for later.

The question of whether humanities degrees can remain relevant in the 21st century is a very real quandary both academics and students face. Whether academics like it or not, the relationship between a college degree and its usefulness in the workforce is perceived as increasingly tenuous.

And we all need to do a better job refuting this argument.

Annu Subramanian, a senior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.