It’s Time for Conservatives to Reclaim Higher Education 

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Sylvia Patterson

One of the most concerning trends that I’ve noticed in conservative media today is a push against college education. 

A 2019 Pew Research Center study found that 38% of Americans believe that colleges and universities are having a negative impact on society, which is a 12% increase since 2012. The study found that the increase in negative views towards college has come “almost entirely from Republicans.” Just a few decades ago, this statistic would not exist. Once the champion of higher education and learning, the Right has now withdrawn from the institutions that used to embody its beliefs. As we will see, this creates a vicious cycle, leading only to the further radicalization of college campuses.

Higher education as a concept is inherently conservative. Deeply rooted in tradition and history, college requires hard work, delayed gratification, and leads to upward mobility and self-improvement. All of these ideals are conservative in nature. Why, then, do so many conservatives shun the idea of higher education?

Anti-College Sentiment

From complaining about the prices, the types of degrees, the radical beliefs, and various college scandals in the news, almost every article today about college from the Right is against it. There seems to be a not-so-hidden agenda to turn students away from pursuing a college education. Rather than taking steps to improve the university system, the Right now uses college as a means to provoke outrage through sensationalist journalism. What they fail to mention is that there are millions of successful, and conservative, college students. 

On conservative news sources, there’s always a bounty of articles implying that young conservatives should skip college. In reality, though, this is poor advice. College attendance rates for Gen Z  are already dropping, and the financial and emotional toll that forgoing college has on students’ futures is apparent, from isolation to unemployment. In fact, the college premium, the return on investment on higher education, has actually only increased in recent years, making the edge that college-educated have over the non-college educated even higher. 

The truth is that most industries require a degree for rising in the ranks. Additionally, with the rise of AI and automation, low-skilled jobs will be the first to go. When a financial crisis strikes, it’s the lower-educated jobs that are hit hardest. By skipping college simply for ideological reasons, young conservatives are cheating themselves out of their futures. 

College is not the only option, nor is it the best choice for everyone, but college is still the number one factor that will set someone ahead. In the end, the quality of the college experience is up to the student alone, it is up to the individual to decide how much they will get out of college. No one is forcing anyone to change their beliefs, compromise their values, or change their lifestyle. Do conservative leaders really think the youth is so weak-minded that a few professors can change their views? If a student has already made it through grade school and high school as a conservative, college should be no different besides living away from home, something that is inevitable with or without a college degree.

How to Think, Not What to Think

If conservatives are afraid that four years will change someone’s entire viewpoint, that conservative beliefs will fall apart at the first sign of conflict, they need to confront why these values might not hold up against opposition. Do young conservatives know how to think, or just what to think? In the marketplace of ideas, the most logical idea will inevitably prevail, so if conservative beliefs are the most rational, they should be able to hold their own. By attempting to scare the conservative youth out of a college education, the Right is becoming like the Left in suppressing the free exchange of ideas. 

While the Right champions “independent thought,” to them this means adhering to a strict set of conservative precepts. Is repeating set beliefs really thinking for oneself? Parents and conservative leaders should teach the logical reasoning behind conservative values, not just what they are. Ultimately, they should teach independent thought. Knowing how to think and explain your beliefs against opposition is crucial. Questioning and reasoning through what you believe is the only way to have true conviction.  

Part of knowing how to think independently means doing research. Not all colleges are created equal. Students should decide carefully where they want to go and what they want to study. It’s critical to look into the rate of return on colleges when thinking long-term about post-graduation plans. Students should consider whether a technical degree, a career-oriented path, or a classical liberal arts experience is right for them. Then, they must choose what to major in. This highly impacts the rate of return on a college degree. In general, degrees in the sciences are a better bet than the humanities in this day and age, both for avoiding political bias and for career prospects. 

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Already, some of the most important professions have gone “woke.” The nation needs more conservative professors, lawyers, teachers, psychologists, economists and journalists, not less. The only way to achieve this is by putting conservatives through college. Then, with a college degree, they will be able to enter society to shape and contribute to it. If conservatives stop going to college, then liberals will take up more and more of the college degrees available, thus allowing all the high paying and high influence jobs to fall to the Left. 

In a way, by being anti-college, conservatives are playing right into the hands of the Left. The more conservatives shun higher education, the more higher education and the jobs associated with it will become part of the Left. The liberal controlled higher ed will then naturally promote leftist principles and ideologies, making conservatives even more loath to pursue a college degree. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

If conservatives want to change the higher education situation, they need to go to college. It’s a long-term strategy, but it’s necessary to salvage the conservative movement and the higher education system. It’s time to bring back classical education. It’s time to bring back the intellectual side of conservatism. If our generation goes to college now and enters the world of higher education, we will then have new conservative professors for our children when they go to college. 

To Conclude

It’s time for conservatives to reclaim the universities. The more conservatives go to college now, the sooner the university system can be reformed. Forgoing college just because of the stereotypical politics associated with it is a foolish idea. Not only will students be forfeiting future success and financial stability, they will also miss out on character-building opportunities, networking advantages, and friendships and memories that will last well beyond the college years. College is a privilege that conservatives deserve and should take advantage of.