Who Needs College?

College diploma

Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Rick Santorum says that wanting every American to go to college makes President Obama a "snob." Jennifer Cohen, senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation's Education Policy Program, discussed what a college education means today.

How many jobs require higher education?

Rick Santorum has had to defend comments he made about higher education over the weekend, when he called President Obama a "snob" for thinking "everyone should go to college."

Santorum was paraphrasing Obama here: in a 2009 speech, the president said that every American should pursue higher education, whether it's a traditional four-year college, an associate's degree, apprenticeship, or other professional training. The President's bottom line was that a high school education is no longer enough.

Jennifer Cohen said Obama was right about that.

Over sixty percent of jobs require at least some kind of higher degree. That's a dramatic shift from the '70s, where you were seeing 70 percent or more of jobs required only a high school degree or lower.

Cohen said that trend would continue, and by 2018, two-thirds of jobs will require some form of higher education.

Enrolling is the easy part

Higher education enrollment has shifted dramatically along with the demands of the job market. Cohen said that there's been a 100 percent increase in enrollment over the last thirty years.

Drop-out rates, however, are troubling.

Of white students who entered school in 2002, only 60 percent that entered a four-year college actually graduated with a four-year degree. That number is lower for associates degrees, and lower for black and hispanic students as well.

High school may need more fixing than higher education, Cohen said, as many students enter unprepared.

A lot of students, especially at community colleges, enter needing remedial education...They're basically wasting time and money after graduating high school re-learning high school subjects.

Not so different after all

Back to what the President actually said in 2009, Cohen argued that Santorum's comments misrepresented Obama's words.

What we have here is one of those very rare moments where Obama and Santorum are actually saying the same thing: moving forward, more Americans are going to have to consider more education after high school.