Debate over higher ed heating up between Rick Santorum, President Obama

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 10:00 a.m. MST

And, significantly, "even a vocational certificate, a credential that generally requires months — not years — of school, can yield more future earnings than a bachelor’s degree in a low-paying field."

The rebuttal

The Obama administration sought to present awareness of the breadth of educational options Monday. Without mentioning Santorum by name, the president reacted to the 'snob' comments during a speech to the National Governors Association, reported the Post.

When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree,” Obama said.

“We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.”

According to Politico, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president's comments were not intended as a specific rebuttal to Santorum, but more of a "general point."

But Carney did reiterate the administration's commitment to all levels of education: technical and vocational school as well as community college and bachelor's degrees.

"I don't think any parent in America who has a child would think it snobbery to hope for that child the best possible education for that child, and that includes college," Carney said.

Politico analyzed the Obama/Carney response as a refusal to take on Santorum directly and create a full-blown fight.

Others were more direct. Washington Post opinion writer Eugene Robinson questioned Santorum's weekend comments:

"Ridiculous? Offensive? Hypocritical? Manifestly, all of the above."

Even some university administrators were not above the fray. Inside Higher Ed reported Macalester College president Brian Rosenberg wrote an opinion piece for the Huffington Post speaking out against Santorum's rhetoric, despite his commitment to staying out of political debate.

"So with all due respect to my responsibilities as a fundraiser and as a guardian of open discourse on my campus," wrote Rosenberg, "I am prepared to make the case that stating publicly that I am appalled by the views of Rick Santorum is not only my right but my responsibility."

What the numbers say

The census data seems to show that Americans' interest in and commitment to higher education is growing, but that growth is not evenly distributed. And while the White House has made equality of access to higher education an important rallying point, achievement gaps have actually widened in the last 10 years.

According to the New York Times, "Among Hispanics, the share of adults holding bachelor’s degrees grew from 11.1 percent in 2001 to 14.1 percent last year, and among blacks it climbed from 15.7 percent to 19.9 percent. But the distinction rose even faster among non-Hispanic whites, from 28.7 percent to 34 percent."

EMAIL: lmarostica@desnews.com

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