Santorum’s “snobbery” red herring

Increasing university funding isn't elitist. Backing a system where college has become a huge class barrier is

Topics: Education, Rick Santorum, ,

Santorum's "snobbery" red herring (Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Say what you will about this era’s Republican presidential candidates, they at least have chutzpah.

Millionaire blue-blood George W. Bush pretended to be a down-home cowboy. Two-time divorcee and longtime Washington influence peddler Newt Gingrich struts around preaching about traditional family values and insisting he’s a D.C. outsider. Now, topping them all is Rick Santorum, who last week declared that only “snobs” support efforts to make a college education more accessible to all Americans.

Santorum, of course, has not one, not two, but a whopping three separate degrees, two of which come from public universities – that is, two that were taxpayer-subsidized, courtesy of the “Big Government” Santorum now claims to loathe.

Hypocritical — and dare I say, snobbish — as it is for someone with such a pedigree to attack President Obama’s college affordability initiatives, Santorum did inadvertently stumble into a significant question: Is higher education for everyone? The answer today is not necessarily, but that’s precisely because of the affordability problem Obama aims to solve.

N+1 magazine notes that since the late 1970s, when Santorum was enjoying his taxpayer-subsidized higher education, “the price of tuition at U.S. colleges has increased over 900 percent.” In 2011, that meant the average total cost of a year at a public university was $21,477, up 5.4 percent in just 12 months. Thanks to cuts to programs that make college and vocational education more affordable — cuts Santorum supported in Congress — those tuition increases promise to get even steeper in the coming years, all but ensuring that a future college student will have even more than the $25,250 in education debt that today’s average student carries.

With higher education this unaffordable but with most decent-paying jobs in our economy still requiring a degree, the trends have created another bubble scenario. Those lucky enough to get a job out of school can barely pay back their now-massive loans, and those left jobless in the recession can’t pay back their loans at all, leaving us facing the potential of mass defaults and yet another financial meltdown.



Not surprisingly, this frightening situation has initiated a debate over whether college remains a good investment. Most of the data say that on average it still is – that the money typically spent on higher education is made back in comparatively higher wages during a career. However, that data is less clear than it once was, and that typical experience is no longer such a guarantee. Indeed, there are more and more situations where college might not be such a solid financial investment, not because it’s wrong for a particular student’s interests, but because the economics of tuition prices and the anemic job market make it too risky a gamble.

Those economics are an obvious symptom of a larger crisis involving all sorts of cuts — revenue-draining tax cuts, cuts to education budgets and cuts to public programs that sustain decent jobs. But because any critical discussion of those policies offends the GOP’s corporate financiers, Santorum is trying to define the crisis on unrelated, culture-war terms. He would have us believe the emergency is about “snobbery” from Democrats arrogantly pressuring Americans to get degrees. In this, he gets a two-fer: he can both avoid tough issues and pander to the anti-intellectual, anti-elitist sensibilities of Republican primary voters.

As the facts prove, though, the real crisis is about a conservative economic agenda whose anti-government extremism is making the path to a degree and a decent job even tougher than it naturally is during tough times.

Trying to make that path just a tad easier — like it was when Santorum got his three degrees — isn’t snobbery. It’s the opposite.

David Sirota

David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>