Three Ways College Makes You More Liberal
Spoiler Alert: It’s not indoctrination at the hands of leftist professors
1. The Insane Price Tag
“Education is important” is one of those unimpeachable staples of American politics; it’s up there with “support the troops” and “small businesses are the backbone of our economy.”
Unfortunately, this apparent consensus mostly amounts to lip service, and as young Millennials and Gen-Zers have filled the halls of America’s colleges, they’ve felt the sting of this cynical pandering with a particularly acrid intensity.
The cost of higher education is ridiculous.
The average 4-year degree at an in-state public school costs a little over $100,000. Adjusted for inflation, the same degree cost about $10,000 in 1980. As sickening as this number is, it’s worse when you consider the relative utility of a bachelor’s degree. The weight of a college diploma today is comparable to yesterday’s GED.
The golden ticket that we all worked for is now the bare minimum.
Is it any wonder that, as millions of young Americans try to pay off mortgages worth of debt on entry-level jobs, they like Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to make college affordable by taxing billionaires?
As a denizen of the border between millennial and Gen-Z (party like its 1999 baby), I can personally attest to the political dynamic of college affordability. Democrats have almost exclusively led the charge to decrease or eliminate higher education costs. The best that Republicans seem to be offering me are snotty commentaries from wealthy pundits who paid eighty-five cents and half a jelly donut for their degree back in 1970.
It’s pretty infuriating to hear someone who was able to pay for school by waiting tables over the summer tell me to stop whining.
2. Leaving Your Bubble
I grew up in a cookie-cutter neighborhood about an hour south of Salt Lake City. The people are lovely, but they’re also almost exclusively white, straight, and Christian. When I went to school in Salt Lake, I didn’t meet militant professors hell-bent on Marxist indoctrination; I met David*.
David was a gay guy from the south, and he wasn’t interested in destroying heterosexual marriage and the institution of the family so much as he was interested in finishing our group project so that he could hang out with his boyfriend. He was just another ordinary guy who happened to be attracted to men.
I met Sofia*; a business-admin major and DACA recipient. Her parents spent years working cash-only gigs to keep a roof over her head while she excelled in High School. They had immigrated illegally because they couldn’t afford to raise their children around the gangs and cartels that plagued their city while they waited for the comically dysfunctional and glacially-slow American immigration system to process them. They weren’t trying to take anyone’s job, rape anyone’s grandkids, freeload off of the Government, or traffic drugs; they just wanted to go to work and school.
I met Ahmed*, the son of Somali refugees. Ahmed’s parents bugged him to say his prayers and go to Mosque just like my parents bugged me to say my prayers and go to Church. He wasn’t there to carry out a terrorist attack, he was there to do his assignments and go back to watching basketball. Our conversations helped me appreciate how similar his religion was to mine; any supposed gulf in values was imagined.
I realized that they were ordinary people, only made exceptional by the barriers placed in their way.
Once again, the dynamic was pretty straightforward: acceptance and proactive effort to extend the promises of the American dream on the one hand, and dog-whistle appeals to fear and division on the other. I tried to imagine what it was like for Sofia to see the inescapable headlines in 2015; a future President comparing Mexican immigrants to rapists and murderers. It pained me to consider what Ahmed’s life would have been like if his parents hadn't found refuge in the United States. I thought about my desire to marry my girlfriend and how David’s legal ability to marry came more recently than the movie Frozen.
It’s pretty simple; the American right is much more heavily saturated with intolerance than the American left, and going to college exposes you to the people who have to deal with it.
I’m sure some conservative college alumni will take issue with this statement, but the fact of the matter is that far more college students identify as liberal.
Draw your own conclusions.
3. Expertise, Science, and Reality
It’s pretty common to hear that college students and alumni are more liberal because higher education makes them more rational and logical, but I think that this explanation misses the mark.
My view, controversial as it may be, is that human beings are almost always rational and logical, but that they very frequently base their rationality on a false reality. For example, I don’t think that the anti-vaccine movement represents a failure of rationality; it is rational to avoid the vaccine if you believe that an evil group of elites is trying to control the population by vaccinating them. The anti-vaccine movement, which leans definitively right, represents an unmooring from reality.
My personal observation is that the college experience primes people to respect scientific thinking and expertise. Essentially, it helps ground people to truth. Given the shocking prevalence of conspiratorial thinking within the right-wing of American politics, it doesn’t surprise me that college education correlates with liberal leanings. I do not mean to dismiss the reality that many conservatives have a college education; plenty of college-educated conservatives are reasonable, rational people who interpret reality differently than I do. My point is that if you believe that the vaccine is a population-control device, that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, or that JFK Jr. is going to rise from the dead to help Trump defeat a cabal of Satan-worshiping elites, you either didn't go to college, or you totally missed the larger point of higher education.
My college experience has helped me understand the importance of the scientific method, and has left me with a deep respect for expertise. Given this mindset, it’s much easier to ground oneself in reality, setting conspiratorial thinking aside in favor of peer-reviewed science. Take most contemporary political issues, and you’ll find a pretty clear division of expertise. Climate change? The left grounds their views in the consensus of the scientific community, and the right favors bloggers and former oil lobbyists on Fox. Vaccines? Virologists and epidemiologists vs. homeopaths and Facebook chiropractors.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that exposure to science and expertise breeds resistance to conspiratorial thinking. Given the rate at which the American right is sinking into a black hole of election, climate, and vaccine conspiracies, no one should be shocked that many college students and alumni embrace liberalism.
It’s Not the Teachers
While you’ll find hard-left professors in American Universities, my experience has been that the vast majority are pretty bland, mainstream liberals. While I’m sure that some amount of unhealthy liberal bias exists in academia, the idea that American Universities are forcefully brainwashing impressionable students into communists is laughable.
College is simply an opportunity for people to learn about the world as it is, and it may be that reality has more of a liberal bent than some people want to admit.