Republican resentment of higher education is everywhere. It is in the voters, in the politicians and in the presidency.
Higher education is in strange form these days. Research has shown, again and again, that college degrees have a high return on investment — this, in part, explains the considerable hike in college tuition prices. Those with a degree will, on average, take home significantly more than those without one. Despite this, the dominant political party in the US seems leery to support any expansion in college accessibility.
The recently-passed tax reforms indicated precisely this — provisions for taxing graduate students’ tuition waivers as income, taxes on charitable donations for students and the organizations and institutions that encourage charitable giving. Basically, anything allowing students of lesser means access to higher education and graduate work. It’s important to remember that attacks on access to education are not something new for the GOP.
To try understanding the misconceptions fueling the Republican mindset, one must first investigate exactly what benefits a higher education can bring. Here are some stats showcasing this: those with a high school diploma or GED will, on average, make $36,500 a year, about $9,200 less than those with an Associate. Those with a full Bachelor’s will make $61,000, $15,400 a year more than someone holding an Associate and about $24,000 more than a high school diploma recipient.
These numbers scale ever-higher with the prestige and time devoted to each further degree, someone holding a Master’s averages out to $75,200, someone with a Doctorate to just over $100,000. Education pays for those willing and able to earn a higher degree.
All this is fantastic for degree-holders, but politicians are — or should be — concerned with the welfare of the country, and not so much the individual. While nobody denies more cash means a better quality of life, the more significant question remains: what does a broader representation of those in higher-education mean for America writ large? The answer is simple. Taxes.
Everyone who makes a paycheck post-graduation gives a significant percentage of that income back to the government in taxes. Given that our country — unlike, say, Saudi Arabia — emphasizes taxes, those making the most money should, under ordinary circumstances, pay the highest amount in taxes. More top earners, more tax revenue. More tax revenue, a wealthier, more advanced country.
Beyond the pragmatics, though, we all like to be smarter, to push our intelligence and skills to the highest possible potential. Some can do so without the help of the classroom, preferring hands-on field experience over academic rigor. Others adopt a student mentality and learn quickly from lectures and texts in the school. Living in a particular income bracket does not change this fact. Giving everyone a choice on this matter is not only practical for our country’s wealth, but it is also the right thing to do.
Despite all the benefits attached to obtaining a higher education, earning this degree has never been more financially difficult. The price of tuition in the US spiked in the past decade and appeared to rise steadily year by year. Under the current administration, this trend will likely continue. Tuition has increased some two-percent in the past year, and additional student aid offered.
Other related costs are also increasing, including books and housing. Students have taken to sharing expensive textbooks, ordering used copies, or even using pirated or illegal pdf versions — anything to keep them out of the campus bookstore. In the case of housing, many students have taken the option to live off-campus as soon as possible, as it costs much less in the long run and has several benefits over on-campus options. As it stands, our country’s inability to prioritize access to a college education is totally changing the dynamic of what it even means to go to college.
Republican Voter Opinions
Votes drive a party. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the tax bill — and other Republican rhetoric — remains in line with the opinions of many Republican voters. In a recent poll, over half of the Republican respondents claimed colleges hurt the country. Significantly less — only 36 percent — hold that upper education benefits the country. This opinion is troubling.
Arguably more alarming are the changes this poll has seen over the past two years. In the 2015 version, the majority of Republican respondents maintained that upper education helped the country. An 18-point drop between then and now begs the big question: what changed in the past two years?
Our presidential administration is the most obvious indicator of how things have changed and the direction in which conservative voters seem to trend. Trump ran his campaign on the back of a sort of anti-elitism, anti-establishment populism. He eschewed anything establishment, including political parties, cable news and yes, education.
It’s hard to determine if this change in voters’ opinions of higher education is a rallying around their president, or if Trump won his presidency on the backs of already-held views. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle of the two. However, one thing is clear — Republican resentment of higher education is everywhere. It is in the voters, in the politicians and in the presidency.