Should There Be a Minimum Education Level for Politicians?

Barry Lenson

Minimum Education Level for Politicians The title of a post, “Should There Be a Minimum Education Level for Politicians?” that Justin Marquis wrote for the blog, asks a pretty interesting question.  Should politicians be required to be college graduates?

It’s an interesting question. If you watched all of debates that led up to the recent presidential election, for example, you were probably asking, “Did these people actually GO TO COLLEGE? Did they actually GO TO LAW SCHOOL?” Most of the participants in those political free-for-alls seemed completely uninterested in advancing any sound or structured arguments about the important issues that we are facing as a country. Instead, they tried to hurl “Zingers” at each other. (Can you go to college and major in Zinging? Not that I have heard of.)

It’s also an interesting question because it implies that you have to go to college in order to be smart, or to be qualified to be a leader. That is complete nonsense. Our country is home to thousands of leaders of all kinds who never went to college. Some of them rose to success because of their hard work, creativity, great people skills, and other assets that are rarely taught in college.

Yet Marquis seems to believe that elected officials ought to have earned college degrees. Writing of elected state legislators, he notes, “No need to depress my readers immediately, so here is the good news. There are no states in which fewer than 50% of legislators have less than a BA. However, in the bottom five states – Arkansas, New Mexico, Delaware, Maine, and New Hampshire – between 40 and 47 percent don’t have the degree that I would consider the minimum qualification for a politician in the United States.”

He doesn’t seem to specify exactly what that degree might be, the on the he “would consider the minimum qualification for a politician in the United States.” But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s turn instead to “How Educated Are State Legislators,” an entertaining interactive map that The Chronicle of Higher Education has up and running on its website.  It’s fun to play with. You can learn from it that the state with the highest percentage of college-educated state legislators is California (with 89.9%), and that the state with the lowest percentage of them is New Hampshire (53.4%).

Nice to know, but what does it mean? After all, California seems to have an educational funding crisis on its hands and New Hampshire doesn’t, right?  So why are we supposed to believe that better-educated people will be better politicians?

Personally, I’d say that if politicians are required to possess any one asset, it should be common sense.  That is not taught in college either, but our leaders should have it. Do you have it? Do the people who represent you? Take a minute, post a comment, and let us know what you think.

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2 thoughts on “Should There Be a Minimum Education Level for Politicians? ”

  • Rakibul Islam

    yes, i think politicians should have minimum level of education

  • Justin Marquis Ph.D.
    Justin Marquis Ph.D. October 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the mention. I was just looking for the article to re-post in the wake of the government shutdown this week and found your post.

    While all college education may not be created equally, most does one thing that I feel is vitally important to being a common-sense oriented elected official - broadens an individual's perspective.

    Any four year university education has as a part of it a broad-based core curriculum that introduces students to global, historical, multicultural and other perspectives that push students to challenge their existing presumptions about how the world works. While many people who have not attended college may have gained this broad perspective, one of the primary goals of a higher education is to cultivate it and thus enable graduates to be better decision makers who have the background and intellectual predisposition to think about the interwoven systems that their choices effect and the potential to craft new and unique solutions to problems that draw on this broader knowledge base.

    So to be completely clear, I recommend that EVERY publicly elected official have a minimum of a BA or BS as the minimum requirement for their job. This would help to guarantee that any official has a minimal ability to think critically and interdisciplinary about the decisions they are paid to make. No one else in this society gets hired for a job without meeting minimum requirements specified as essential for doing that work. Why do we give people a pass based on either their financial means to run for elected office or their charisma? Ever hear of Warren Harding?

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