How Educated is Your State Legislator?

How educated is your state legislator? The answer varies considerably from state to state. While many lawmakers hold a college degree, support of public higher education, it seems, has always been a challenge. Consider this scenario:

Sufficient funds have been raised to support initial construction of the academic buildings and the first faculty member has been hired. But the state legislature is reluctant to provide funding to allow completion of the building, causing considerable delays of opening for its first academic year. Ripple effects ensue. The first freshmen class cannot be admitted if the University is not ready, and the first cohort of faculty are up in arms, as are the staff – not to mention the builder and construction crew waiting to complete the buildings.

Fuming with frustration, the University's founder writes a letter in March to one of the new faculty members informing him that:

“…the Treasurer’s default at so critical a moment will, in my opinion, have the unfortunate effect of delaying the opening (of) the institution another year,…”

Things do not improve. In fact, public support of this new University remains difficult, delaying opening by not one but five years. By that time, the original entering class would have likely already graduated! The originally hired faculty resign.

Throughout this nightmare of financial woes, the founder never loses faith, keeping the dream alive of a new University that would allow individuals to achieve their highest potential unlike anything accomplished before.

Is this scenario ridiculous, fictional? No it is not. The situation described is adapted from a letter by Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia, to Dr. Thomas Cooper hired as the first faculty member to teach natural science and law, dated March 8, 1820.

Public institutions of higher education are increasingly expected to do more with less. In New Jersey, the legislature has reduced funding to state colleges and universities more than seven times in the last decade. The last public bond investment for facilities was some 22 years ago. At the same time, enrollments continue to increase.

Many states are divesting themselves from support of public higher education, yet most of their legislators, about 80%, have benefited from a college degree from a public institution. Overall, close to 75% of legislators hold a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 28% within the US population.

Take a look at this map to see how your state compares:


About This Map

Education data were obtained from Project Vote Smart, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group. This information is primarily self-reported by the legislators, either through biographical surveys or in campaign literature. In some cases, ambiguity or a lack of information meant that degrees earned and colleges attended, if any, could not be determined. The state where this is most evident is New Hampshire. Because of its unusually large, part-time legislature, the educational attainments of an inordinate number of lawmakers are unknown.

A version of this article was published at OpEdNews.

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Interesting, not a single one from my alma mater in RI. But then the company that I work for has an inordinate number of people working there from the University I graduated from, and we're all in some way shape or form in the InfoSec field.

Thank you. This post is trending today as a top news story at with some interesting comments.

One of my favorite exchanges:

"Never confuse education with intelligence."

"True, but education is a useful trait especially when combined with intelligence. A general understanding of science, math, history, moral philosophy."

According to the NCES __Digest of Education Statistics__ table 365, State appropriations for post-secondary institutions in New Jersey fluctuated between 1990 and 2009, ending considerably higher than when they started. Between those cuts were increases as well.

I am not convinced that society as a whole benefits from a government presence in the education industry, beyond what governments contribute to the retail grocery industry or to the construction equipment industry: an original assignment of title, operation of courts, and a predictable system of contract law. Given tax subsidies (e.g., Pell grants, the GI Bill), I do not see a good argument for State (government, generally) operation of schools.

If State (government, generally) support of school is not an employment program for public-sector employees, a source of padded construction and supply contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination, why cannot any student take any course required for graduation credit-by-exam? License independent agencies to proctor exams for a fee and let competition between Sylvan Learning Centers and the University of Phoenix drive the cost of a high school diploma or of a college degree down to the cost of books and grading exams.

By Malcolm Kirkpatrick (not verified) on 09 Jul 2011 #permalink

I'm sure if there's someone out there, looking down on us from someplace else in the universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us.

By institute mana… (not verified) on 11 Jul 2011 #permalink