Photo by Gage Skidmore

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Former Sen. Rick Santorum may no longer be the frontrunner in the GOP presidential contest, but he is still the only one to have made education a major issue in his campaign.

A week after he pushed homeschooling as the preferred option for parents, Sen Rick Santorum took on the higher education system as well, asserting among other things that the reason President Obama has been promoting greater college attendance is because of his desire to indoctrinate them into liberal values.

On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” he labelled President Obama a “snob” for pushing college attendance, and colleges as “indoctrination mills.”

I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely. The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

President Obama responded with the following statement:

 When I speak about higher education, we are not just talking about a four-year degree. 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.

Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post’s The Fact Checker, awarded Santorum “Four Pinocchios” for the “significant factual errors and/or obvious contradictions” in Santorum’s statements.

Here are some of the flaws in Santorum’s higher education discourse:

On Stephanopoulos’ show, he cited a study he said showed that “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it,” but indicated it may be out of date. “I suspect it may even be worse,” he said.

But the study that he was apparently referring to, a 2007 paper titled “How Corrosive Is College to Religious Faith and Practice?”  showed just the opposite picture.

“Contrary to our own and others’ expectations, however, young adults who never enrolled in college are presently the least religious young Americans,” the paper found.

Citing longitudinal surveys, the paper also asserted that 64 percent of colleges students attended church less regularly than when they arrived, compared to 76 percent of those who never attended college.

Contrary to Santorum’s assertion, there is no evidence that President Obama ever said “he wants everybody in America to go to college.

In fact, in his first State of the Union address, he said the following:

 And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.

Compare that to a statement made by Santorum last week:

There’s technical schools. There’s additional training, vocational training. There’s skills and apprenticeships. There’s all sorts of things that people can do to upgrade their skills, to be very productive and great workers here in America who provide for their families and build their community.

As Kessler pointed out — not much difference between the two statements.

A major difference is that while Santorum wants to get the federal government and states out of the “education business,” more than any other president President Obama has made community colleges, the place where most Americans go for low-cost technical career training, the centerpiece of his higher education policies.

One of his first appointments was to select Martha Kanter, then chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College as his undersecretary of education, the second in command in the U.S Department of Education. She is the first community college leader to serve in that position, a clear signal of the importance he placed on this often neglected sector of the education infrastructure in the United States.

Beyond the specifics, Santorum’s apparent belief that Americans should not be encouraged to go to college flies in the face of research showing that the earning capacity of college educated Americans is far higher than those who don’t attend college.

There’s also the well-documented need for more college educated workers to drive the U.S. economy. By 2025 California will need an additional 1 million college-educated workers, a 2009 Public Policy Institute of California report projected. If Santorum were to become president and he were to promote his anti-college going ideas from the White House  — a prospect even less likely after his loss in Michigan this week — it could take California far longer to achieve that 1 million mark.

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