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Higher education is still much-needed

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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In the DI Feb. 29 column by Daily Iowan Editor Adam B Sullivan, "Santorum's right about something," he backs GOP hopeful Rick Santorum's remarks calling President Obama a "snob" for touting increased education and training after high school.

But Sullivan is doing exactly what Santorum does — making generalizations about whether people should go to college based upon stereotypes and without considering the facts. At a time when millions are seeking employment at stable jobs, we cannot afford to make policy based simply on sweeping generalizations. We need facts.

And the facts are out there. If Sullivan had dug a bit deeper, he would know, for example, that McDonald's, which he paints as a place with little need for educated workers, provides post-high-school training to its employees and even offers its own Hamburger U management-training program.

Another industry Sullivan mentions, manufacturing, is increasingly requiring more training than ever. The Manufacturing Institute, part of the National Association of Manufacturers, reports in a 2011 study that more than 80 percent of manufacturing companies can't find enough workers with adequate skills and training, leaving 500,000 such jobs open. In the same survey, respondents said that a highly skilled workforce is the most vital component to success in the future, even above new product innovation.

In a recent speech to the National Governors' Association, the president noted the importance of advanced training for manufacturing workers.

"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 $1 million piece of equipment," Obama said. "And they can't go in there unless they've got some basic training beyond what they received in high school."

Training such workers in such fields as manufacturing and health care will be crucial for creating a strong economy. Estimates by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce indicate that in just five years, America will have a shortage of 5 million middle-skill workers. These positions typically require skills acquired through an associate's degree or technical certificates.

Sullivan makes other off-base arguments, including that Obama (and liberals on the whole) are pushing for "universal higher education" as "essential for everyone."

It's important to note that Obama has not said that higher education should be mandatory. Rather, he's worked to ensure that Americans have the opportunity for further education, whether at four-year schools, community colleges, or trade schools. Doing so is vital, as nearly one-quarter of young Americans say they're worried about affording higher education, and the declining value of financial aid when compared with skyrocketing tuition, sometimes coupled with poor academic preparation, serves as a major barrier.

While college may not be for everyone, some increased education does result in a higher chance of having a job. The unemployment rate for Americans with less than a high-school diploma is nearly 14 percent; the rate for those with a bachelor's or higher is just 4 percent.

These are the reasons the president recently called on Congress to invest $8 billion in partnerships between businesses and community colleges to train 2 million workers.

Even numerous Republicans, including GOP contender Newt Gingrich, have sided with Obama's plan for higher education and called Santorum's "snob" comments out of line.

In fact, Santorum himself is beginning to back down from his comments, admitting they were "probably not the smartest thing" and telling Fox News recently that he may have misrepresented Obama's stance on higher education.

On this issue, Gingrich and Obama are correct while Santorum and Sullivan are stuck in the past. The opportunity for affordable training or education for Americans is essential to creating a strong middle class and a strong American economy.

Tobin Van Ostern is the advocacy and communications manager for Campus Progress.


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