In the unlikely event that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker becomes the Republican nominee, the question will arise as to whether or not he should be disqualified from being president because he does not have a college degree.
The argument being made by his defenders is that not everyone in America can go to college and a lot of successful people have made it to the top without a degree. Also, it’s snobbery to say that only people who can get in to college and complete the coursework are worthy of being the most powerful person in the world.
Those are valid points, and to some degree — no pun intended — I agree with them. I know a lot of very smart people who don’t have college degrees, and I know that having one is no guarantee of brilliance; I can think of at least one recent example where we’ve had a president with two college degrees who did not strike me as being someone who put that education to good use. As I noted elsewhere, wisdom is not measured by degrees.
On the other hand, I doubt that there are too many people today who would trust their health to a doctor who didn’t go to med school, and you can’t be a lawyer without a degree from law school. In some states you can’t even get a license to be a physical therapist without an advanced degree. So there are some occupations where dropping out of college for whatever reason is a hindrance, and for good reason.
But college is not just for the coursework or the degree. It is, for most people, their first exposure to the larger world. It is the first time they are on their own to make the choices that will shape their lives without parental or school board guidance, and what they choose to do with the opportunities presented tells us about what kind of adult they will be. For the first time in their life, a college student is faced with making decisions that will determine a good deal of where they will go for the next fifty or so years and how they will touch the lives of the people around them.
It also provides them with a broad base of experience and insight about themselves and the world they face. This happens not just at Yale or the University of Colorado but at every institution of higher learning, including the community college or trade school. The classes are the tools; the interaction and the responsibilities assumed are the real lessons, and I would prefer to have a president who has proved to both himself and at least one board of regents he’s learned them.