So now you’ve heard that U.S. presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, described President Obama as an ‘elitist snob’ because he wanted to ensure universal access to post-secondary education.

I’m here to tell you that Santorum, and much of the American Right, have utterly missed the point. Snobs, by their very nature, are exclusionary. Snobs are those people that refer to universities as ‘indoctrination mills’ that want to ‘remake you’ into the president’s Leftist image.

David Earnshaw, a regular contributor to The Saint, wrote a piece last year that paraphrases Santorum’s message almost identically, claiming ‘some people are better suited to be electricians, carpenters, or plumbers, because they are better at working with their hands than with their minds.’

In short, universities are not for everyone. This writer, it would seem, counterintuitively agrees.

What the American government needs to allow is open and universal access to post-secondary education – be that through university or apprenticeship programs.

This would enable any American to have the opportunity to chose what career path is best suited for him. No arbitrary percentage of Americans should be told to attend university, like New Labour’s ‘50%’ model. The choice should ultimately come down to the individual – but the choice must be available to all.

Rick would agree with this notion that freedom of choice should exist in America. However, what he fails to realise, is that this lauded ‘choice’ is becoming increasingly limited for most young Americans.

Take the analogy of a doctor. There is no American that cannot be a doctor. We don’t have a right to be a doctor, but we want to live in a society where anyone can if they show gumption.

This reality is no longer true, and this is what the Republicans and Rick fail to realize. Gumption alone is no longer enough to get you into medical school – you’ve got to have $300,000 along with it. To not acknowledge this reality is to perpetuate a system where elites will only be able to attend university.

Obama and the American Left, if anything, are the anti-snobs for trying to alleviate this issue.

Western civilisation has upgraded the educational system over and over to keep up with technological advances in society. In an agrarian society, that meant establishing a universal primary education. As an industrial society was formed, that meant advocating universal high school education, and as we become a hyper-connected, intelligent society, we need to pursue universal post-secondary education.

To do this, America has to raise the average level of education. We as a people, ever trying to improve ourselves and the future of our country must do so. We must realise that what was adequate for my grandmother’s generation is no longer for us.

Like so many matters – public infrastructure, national identity – the U.S. is living off what our parents and grandparents achieved.

The automation of jobs is becoming clearer. Walk into Tesco, and those self check-out systems represent four people’s livelihood vanished. The rapid increase of IT and globalisation has meant that in order to attain the best jobs, one must have access to post-high school education of the mind or hands. The latest unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Americans over 25 years old show that those with less than a high school degree is 13.8 percent; those with a high school degree and no college, 8.7 percent; those with some college or associate degree, 7.7 percent; and those with bachelor’s degree or higher, 4.1 percent.

This is a clear indication that the economic foundation for America to grow is founded upon a more educated populous. Michelle Rhee, the ex-chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school system wrote in an interview in Washington magazine that ‘[America] is in a significant crisis in education, and we don’t know it. If you look at countries, like Singapore – Singapore’s knocking it out of the box. Because the number one strategy in their economic plan is education. We treat education as a social issue . . . and when the budget crunch comes, [social issues] get swept under the rug. We have to start treating education as an economic issue.’

Numerous studies indicate the depressing reality that America is slipping behind the world in educational standards. This is why it is so imperative that we invest in our educational system now, before it is too late.

Universal access to post secondary education provides the perfect example of Thomas Jefferson’s analogy of a candle: If we give someone a light, it does not diminish our light. But in a competitive situation, it makes a big difference if we have the light first and see things before they do.

This is neither a call for a socialist revolution nor is it a conspiracy on behalf of progressives to manifest an entitlement society where individuals are ‘freed from want’.

It is an economic calculation, that if America wants to continue to lead the world in innovation, if America still wants to house the best universities in the world and if America wants its future generations to have the opportunity to excel academically – education cannot be resigned to cuts.

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