Inquirer Editorial: College aspirations are good for everyone

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Rick Santorum sent the wrong message by suggesting it was elitist for President Obama to wish every young American could go to college.

In between taking potshots at each other, the Republican presidential candidates have made a sport of trying to demean their eventual November opponent. Newt Gingrich even called Obama the "food-stamp president." But Santorum struck a nerve among folks of all political persuasions when he called Obama a "snob" for saying he "wants every American to go to college."

That irresponsible retort goes against the grain of what generations of parents have told their children. Higher education has long been touted as the pathway to a better future, and that doesn't mean spending four years at one of the Ivies. Even one- and two-year programs post-high school can significantly increase a person's income.

Santorum made his remark while pandering to blue-collar voters in the Michigan primary, trying to captalize on his own working-class background and apparently hoping his audience would ignore that he holds both a master's in business and a law degree. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, attends the University of Dallas. Does he think she's a snob?

What Obama and other political leaders across the country are pushing is a well-rounded education agenda that includes increasing the number of college graduates to compete in a more highly skilled global workforce.

Mayor Nutter has issued a similar call, seeking to double the city's number of college graduates in 10 years. Only 18 percent of city residents have college degrees, ranking it 92d in the nation, behind Boston, Chicago, and Washington. About 73,000 Philadelphians left college before earning a diploma.

The Obama plan places special emphasis on vocational training and apprenticeships. He wants to invest $8 billion in the nation's community colleges to prepare up to two million workers in the health-care, transportation, and high-tech manufacturing fields.

The plan provides a blueprint to put more Americans in better-paying jobs and reduce unemployment. A highly educated workforce earns more money, pays its taxes, and consumes more goods. That's good for the entire nation.