By Robert Mann
The differences in opinion are stark but not surprising. “A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year,” the Pew Research Center reported the other day. “By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.”
Many who disparage higher education likely live in states with the lowest rates of college graduates, like Louisiana. Too few people in those states understand the value of universities beyond providing entertainment like football and basketball.
Nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, with almost 60 percent having some college. Among the states, Massachusetts has the highest percentage of college graduates, with 41 percent. Not one Southern state makes the top 20. In the South, Georgia is highest with 29 percent.
You will not be shocked to learn Louisiana has among the lowest percentage of college graduates, with 22.9 percent. We’re in 46th place, a notch above Kentucky (22.2), Arkansas (21.4), Mississippi (21.8) and West Virginia (19.2).
I would bet next month’s paycheck that the bulk of GOP disregard for higher education comes from states like Louisiana, where former Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative allies slashed higher education funding and worked to weaken LSU and other schools.
They knew they would pay no political price for attacking universities because so few of their supporters had college degrees.
These new Pew survey numbers are interesting and telling, but they don’t answer the central question, which should not be difficult to answer: Could a state like Louisiana — even one in which only one in five has a degree — survive without its universities?
We couldn’t. Where would we find engineers to design and build our roads and bridges? Where would we get new doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and veterinarians to replace those who retire each year? Where would we find school teachers? Who would train accountants, lab technicians, coastal scientists and architects?
I could go on, but you get the point: Our colleges and universities are vital to Louisiana’s economic and cultural life.
Sure, it’s possible to support a family without a college degree. Many do. It’s not possible to have a functioning society, however, if you lack residents with degrees and the specialized skills that accompany them.
Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.