It was 2009 and I was pretty excited. Secretary of State Karen Handel was coming to LaGrange College as my guest speaker for Constitution Day. I was sure to have a packed audience. There was just one issue.
I always ask my guest speakers to talk about how they went from being a college graduate to their current position in politics, business, or wherever they ended up. “That way, somebody doesn’t think that you’re all born on Mount Olympus, that you started somewhere.”
Ms. Handel looked at me. “I didn’t graduate from college.”
Luckily, I didn’t miss a beat. “That’s cool,” I said earnestly. “Just talk about how you went from school to where you are currently.” And I meant it. After all, my dad was the only one in his family that went to college of ten siblings. My mother was the first of her family to go to a university. And those aunts, uncles and grandparents were pretty sharp folks.
Handel obliged and there was no problem with the talk. She mentioned her political work and all students did not give her any grief over that. But that’s not the case for everyone. One of Handel’s GOP opponents knocked her recently for not having a college degree. It was a punch below the belt which could help knock the candidate, David Perdue, from his newfound front-runner status.
Many of us today take it for granted that just about everyone was a college graduate. Most of that mentality comes because many who go to college have parents who did, friends who did, and other classmates who did.
As a college professor, we’d love to have as many folks as possible go to college. Some of that is for business reasons…more students mean more money for the institution. But we’ve also seen how many students have a pretty transformative experience going through our college halls.
Is there a snob snub against those who have not graduated from college? I can’t speak for all of those in my profession. I know generally at LaGrange College that we don’t always look down our noses at someone for not having a university diploma. The evidence comes from our Work Study Program. Students get paid for campus work. We’ve had them work for our Dean of Students, in our admissions department, and yes, even as my research assistant. I’ve never had a single one have a B.A., B.S., or even a Master’s Degree before signing on.
Part of the reason that a bias against non-college graduates doesn’t make a lot of sense for a school like LaGrange College is because there’s a vibrant Evening College on campus. The folks who take that class show that you’re never too old to give it a try. “I haven’t written a paper since Reagan was president!” one told me in class. But that class showed they had enough of a work ethic to give my day students a run for their money.
College professors get knocked for having that elite snob attitude toward others without a higher education degree, as former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said 2012. But as recent events show, some conservatives themselves can hold those attitudes toward others without a college diploma.