What’s A College Education Worth? Just Ask Congress

Posted on May 18, 2012 by

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You might remember that many moons ago I did several pieces on college education (the series that starts with, “When College is A Means To No End: Financial Responsibility For a Murky Future“), particularly from the perspective of whether parents should be obligated to pay for such.

We addressed whether there was inherent value in attending university–even if the major is bagpiping–and what majors are considered the most financially sound investments [and I threw in the worst investments, too, to humor myself and others--except those whose children were in those majors, I suppose]. I hope you can still chuckle even if your child’s major is:

  •  Clinical Psychology, which sounds good, until you realize it has the single lowest employment rate of any major, at a 19.5 % unemployment;
  • Miscellaneous fine arts (which sounds kind of nondescript and, well, miscellaneous, if you asked me–16.2% unemployment); or
  •  Library science (15.0% unemployment).

[Note: as of 2011, according to Huffington Post, some majors' unemployment rates approach zero. Consider: actuarial science, pharmacology and teaching (although I know a few laid-off teachers, so maybe the rate is something like 0.000123%, really).]

But to get to the point here (which I see I’ve nearly lost)–a college education is clearly worth something in the minds of politicians these days, as President Obama’s roast of Mitt Romney made clear.

At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where hilarity ((perhaps not our president’s greatest strength) is called for and expected, Mr. President made a point of noting the difference between his college accomplishments–and his rival’s.

Obama earned a BA from Columbia, and a JD (with high honors, no less) from Harvard Law.

But, not to be outdone, even in his youth, Romney received two degrees from Harvard–his MBA and his JD.

And these things seem to matter.

At the dinner, Mr. Obama pointed out that both he and Romney have degrees from Harvard–but Romney has two.

“What a snob,” Obama remarked.

And people did laugh. We have an entrenched belief in American society in the power of elite colleges to create greatness (remember Clinton attending Oxford, and then Yale Law School, both Bushes attending Yale, with Bush, Jr., who struck some as a bit less-than-academic, following that up with–what else?–an MBA from Harvard?)

If I had to hypothesize, based on this limited knowledge, I might suggest that where a politican attends school makes a great difference, as does his choice of graduate major (we’ve got a lot of JDs and MBAs–can I bid on one, just one, fine arts Ph.d?).

But if I did so, I would have been hasty, for it’s crucial to remember that we’re running full-steam ahead in this country with three governmental branches, all busy checking and balancing each other.

I don’t even need to start telling you about the educations of the Supreme Court members. Let’s just say they went to schools no one would frown upon, and often received their JDs, as is appropriate. All on the up-and-up.

But who can forget (and, really, with all the shenanigans, who can forget?) the Legislative branch?

I want you to enjoy the (yet another!) Infographic below. Peruse for a moment–and then let’s chat about some of the more. . .perplexing aspects of the “Where Did Congress Go To College” infographic below.

Where did Congress go to college - infographic
Crisp360 Career Development

Well-done, no? I mean, someone must have spent their time looking up where all these people went to college and what they majored in.  It’s hard to say if that’s exactly time fully well-spent, but I enjoyed it.

Clearly some of the most elite and ‘desirable’ schools are still producing a heavy load of lawmakers. But the Infographic and a little research reveals details about Congress’s educational levels that are more intriguing.

Some highlights in any conversation about Congress and Education:

  • About that ’1 in 20′ statistics of those who simply never graduated college, the New York Times had something to say in a December, 2009 piece:

Among the jobs in this country that don’t require a college degree is [apparently] that of a member of Congress.

One of them, Representative Solomon Ortiz, Democrat of Texas, is quoted by the news service as saying that he sees no difference between himself, a high school dropout who joined the Army to help his mother support his family, and his more credentialed colleagues. “They put their pants on the same way I put my pants on,” the article quotes him as saying.

Who knew it was all about putting on your pants in a certain way? Think of what I could have saved on college tuitions, instead sending my children to a few advanced ‘pants-putting-on’ training seminars. That’s why I love Congress–they’re always a step-ahead in innovative ideas and ways to save this country money.

  • 8 out of 10 (to me, that would be 4 out of 5, but this is the way  “Defeat the Debt,” from Employment Policies Institute, counts it–and who am I to argue with my source?) lack an academic background in economics or business. Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at EPI, said (rather snidely, I might add) in a press release: “Members of Congress are expected to provide answers for our country’s spending and economic crises. But it appears many of them might have difficulty answering Econ 101 questions.” [See "8 In 10 Lawmakers Lack An Academic Background In Business Or Economics: Study" for more illuminating criticisms.]
  • In the session 2009-2010 (and, shamed as I am to admit it, the following 2 stats are from Wikipedia. Please forgive):
    • 23 Representatives (but not one Senator) had a PhD.
    • Five Representatives (but no Senators) had an associate’s degree as their highest degree.
  • Fully half of U.S. senators are graduates of public universities, and many went to “states”—among them Chico State, Colorado State, Iowa State, Kansas State,            Louisiana State, Michigan State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State,  Oregon State, Penn State, San Jose State, South Dakota State, Utah State, and Washington State. [From the Atlantic Monthly's "Who Needs Harvard?"]
  • 11.5 % majored in science or technology-related fields [a Carpe Diem post].
  • Infographic: 4.9% majored in “Human Service.” Explanation, please? I don’t remember that being on my college syllabus. Rightfitdegrees.com clarifies for us: Apparently human service degrees are for you if you. . .

Wish you could make the world a better place – and earn a paycheck at the same time[.] Human services careers are all about helping people in need. . . Examples of human services jobs include caregiver, activities coordinator, substance abuse counselor, food bank worker, employment counselor or correctional facility workerExamples of human services jobs include caregiver, activities coordinator, substance abuse counselor, food bank worker, employment counselor or correctional facility worker.

My guess–and Congress never ceases to amaze me, but still–is that it’s highly unlikely that 4.9% of Congressional members are trained to be food bank or correctional facility workers. Am I just being cynical, or does it indeed seem highly improbable? That leaves this me still at a loss as to what nearly 5% of Congress selected to major in–and how it contributes to the smooth and flawless running of this country.

  • And let’s return to that Infographic for a moment, for some of the colleges that round out the “Top 15.”

I see University of Arkansas–10th most frequently attended university for Senators (apparently Representatives wouldn’t be caught dead there).

I went straight to the US News college rankings–and looked up the University, only to discover that: a) it has many positives and one can surely get a good education there; and b) spelling is not part of the curriculum. Write the students (who apparently never heard of proofreading either) of the school’s “Big Picture“:

Our school’s a good size, not extremely large, but definately not little. No one really cares about Arkansas, it’s just…Arkansas. Noone from too far away really wants to come here, because of the state’s stereotypes. . .  . You call the hogs all the time, even unnecessarily, like at a house party, where everyone’s drunk, or for the latest band at a concert to come back out. . . . We can’t wait for a snow day, or night, so we can take our cafeteria trays and sled down the Dixon Street hill, next to the Greek Theater.

Aha, there you have it–the University of Arkansas at its finest–10th most frequently attended school by Senators.

I’m so proud.

But let’s check out those Reps, too, while we’re at it.

Let’s hear it for the University of Georgia, in the top 10 most frequently attended schools for the Representatives, and coming in at number 13 for the Senators. Again, any serious-minded student can turn a college experience to their advantage, and milk it for all it’s worth academically.

I just found it interesting that when I found the University of Georgia Undergraduate Student Review site, the most recently added comment was:

UGA is a great exciting place, and an absolutely stunning campus. But I haven’t had many good professors- actually, I’ve had more grad assistants who can’t even speak english than american professors. . . .You will always be just a number here.. . From a social standpoint, great place. . . If you like huge campuses with an exciting social scene, Athens is great. But the down side to that is that the campus and town is one big drunk-in-training program. If you’re not an alcholic when you get here, odds are you will be one when you leave.

How could any parent pass up on sending their child there, after such a rave review?

And I hate to leave off an a note of existential questioning, but I simply can’t help it? What majors went into the 5.8% statistic labelled “other”?

Do you think they were bagpiping, underwater basket weaving–and clinical psychology–and that these Congressmen can’t believe their good fortunes, sitting there as they are, thinking deep thoughts, spending money on bridges to nowhere, dreaming of how to thwart the president–and using all their “other” skills to plan their next election campaign?

It just shows how much a college education is worth.