Did The President Really Say Everyone Should Go To College? No, He Didn’t
As we’ve noted here at OTB in several posts over the last week, Rick Santorum has been in the news lately for saying that the President is a snob for saying that everyone should go to college.
Politifact took a look at the matter, reviewing nearly 20 Presidential speeches and remarks over the past three years, and determined that there’s absolutely no factual basis for what Rick Santorum is saying:
In seven sets of remarks, Obama focused not on having every young American attend college, but rather making college a possibility for every American who wants to attend, particularly making it more affordable. Here are two that were typical (the full list is available here).
• A letter by Barack Obama to his daughters, published in Parade magazine, Jan. 2009. “In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation. I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren’t rich.”
• Remarks at the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, Fla., Feb. 23, 2012. “When kids graduate, I want them to be able to afford to go to college. If they’ve been working hard, if they’ve gotten the grades to go to college, I don’t want them to cut their dreams short because they don’t think they can afford it.”
In another four speeches, Obama focused on community colleges as an alternative to the traditional, four-year college experience. Here is one example:
• Remarks at a Democratic issues conference, Jan. 27, 2012. “They don’t all have to go to four-year colleges and universities — although we need more engineers and we need more scientists, and we’ve got to make sure that college is affordable and accessible. But we also need skilled workers who are going to community colleges, or middle-aged workers who are allowed to retrain, have a commitment to work, have that work ethic, but want to make sure that technology is not passing them by — and so focusing on our community colleges, and making sure that they’re matched up with businesses that are hiring right now, and making sure that they help to design the programs that are going to put them — put people in place to get those jobs right away.”
In another four speeches, Obama was quite explicit about encouraging Americans to pursue either a college education or vocational training, apprenticeships or lifelong retraining. What he said in his first address to a joint session of Congress was typical:
• Address to a Joint Session of Congress, Feb. 24, 2009. “Tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”
Judging by these 15 speeches, it’s possible to conclude that Obama favors giving all Americans the chance to get a university education if they wish, and opening up other opportunities for education beyond high school for those who do not, from community colleges to vocational training to apprenticeships.”
Finally, in three speeches Obama said something a little closer to what Santorum claimed he said.
For instance, in remarks at a Democratic National committee fundraiser in Austin, Texas, on May 10, 2011, he said: “Our reforms are not done. I want every child in Texas and every child in America ready to graduate, ready to go to college, and actually able to afford going to college. That’s how we’re going to out-compete and out-educate the rest of the world. That’s how America will succeed in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dinner in Minneapolis, Minn., on Oct. 23, 2010, Obama said, “We’ve got to make sure that every young person in America is prepared for college and then can afford to go to college.” And at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee dinner in Rockville, Md., on Oct. 18, 2010, Obama said, “How do we make sure that every young person can go to college once they get through that high school?”
Even the most generous reading for Santorum of these speeches makes it pretty clear that the President was not saying what Santorum claims he was saying. Opening the doors for people who want to go to college and making college eduction more affordable are not the same thing as saying that everyone should go to college. One can have real disagreements about the proper ways to achieve these goals, of course, but Santorum wasn’t criticizing Obama based on a policy disagreements. As with so much else in his campaign, Santorum’s argument was entirely cultural, and is based in his irrational idea that going to college is some kind of liberal indoctrination program. It’s a staple of the paranoia that infects contemporary social conservatism, and its completely false. Of course, when you’re basing your entire argument on lies it’s not surprising that your conclusions would be a lie too.