This post first appeared at OtherWords.org.
Going to college is a good thing, right? That’s at least what I was told as a kid, and what led me to get a college degree. I was the first one in my family to do so.
Yet new public opinion polling shows most Republicans think colleges have a negative impact on the country. Unfortunately, they might be right — but not for the reasons you might expect them to give.
Attending college has been proven to unlock opportunities. A report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities found that college graduates are 24 percent more likely to be employed than high school graduates — and earn $1 million more over a lifetime.
Those with college degrees are also more than twice as likely to volunteer, and over three times more likely to give back to charity.
College educations also affect the way people vote. Three-quarters of bachelor’s degree holders vote in presidential elections, compared to just over half of high school graduates.
So why might some view college negatively? Well, there’s a lot of reasons — 1.3 trillion, to be precise. That’s how much debt students, current and former, are carrying in this country: $1.3 trillion worth, and rising.
Who’s hit worst by this skyrocketing debt? Women, who owe two-thirds of that amount — and especially black and Latina women.
A recent report from the American Association of University Women found that the average woman who graduated from a four-year university between in 2012 carried $21,000 in college debt. That’s about $1,500 more than the average man. Black women are even more negatively impacted, averaging over $29,000 in student loans.
Worse still, women are paid about 80 cents to every dollar a man makes — a number that falls to 63 cents for black women, and just 54 cents for Latina women, when compared to white men. That means these grads start out deeper in debt and then have a much harder time getting out.
So, is rising Republican opposition to the academy a result of their concern for the economic well-being of black or Latina women? Doubtful.
After all, our GOP-led Congress refuses to engage with potential solutions to close the gender wage gap, which could make huge strides in reducing overall student loan debt. And not a single Republican senator supported the Pay Check Fairness Act, which would make it harder for employers to discriminate based on gender.
Same goes for the College for All Act, a bill put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders to create a debt-free higher education system and help student borrowers refinance their debt. A lot more effort is needed on the federal and local levels to remove this economic burden systemically placed on women.
Unfortunately, the Pew study that showed Republican opposition to universities didn’t dive deeper as to why. However, an old quote from Karl Rove, the Republican mastermind responsible for bringing George W. Bush into office, offers a clue: “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans — unless they have too much education and vote Democratic.”
What else about college might rub conservatives the wrong way?
Colleges provide a space for critical thinking where students can expand their minds and become more knowledgeable of the world. That might be why universities have historically played major roles in the resistance to bad public policy — from Vietnam to Iraq to today’s #resistance to Donald Trump.
Fixing higher education means reducing barriers to college, not increasing them. Greater investment in debt-free higher education and debt relief for the most impacted students, including black women like me, is what’s needed — not mindless broadsides against the idea of education.