NY TImes: College Does NOT Indoctrinate
By NEIL GROSS
THE Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently called President Obama a “snob” for supporting higher education for all Americans. “There are good, decent men and women,” he said, “who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them.” He also called colleges and universities “indoctrination mills” for godless liberalism.
But is this true? Does attending college actually make you more liberal and less religious? Research indicates that the answer is: not so much.
It’s certainly true that professors are a liberal lot and that religious skepticism is common in the academy. In a survey of more than 1,400 professors that the sociologist Solon Simmons and I conducted in 2006, covering academics in nearly all fields and in institutions ranging from community colleges to elite universities, we found that about half of the professors identified as liberal, as compared to just one in five Americans over all. In the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents outnumbered Republicans by a wide margin; among social scientists, for example, there were 10 Democrats for every Republican. Though a majority of professors said that they believed in God, 20 percent were atheists or agnostics — compared with just 4 percent in the general population.
It’s also true that young college graduates are somewhat more likely to identify as liberal and to hold more liberal attitudes on social issues than their non-college-educated peers.
But contrary to conservative rhetoric, studies show that going to college does not make students substantially more liberal. The political scientist Mack Mariani and the higher education researcher Gordon Hewitt analyzed changes in student political attitudes between their freshman and senior years at 38 colleges and universities from 1999 to 2003. They found that on average, students shifted somewhat to the left — but that these changes were in line with shifts experienced by most Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 during the same period of time. In addition, they found that students were no more likely to move left at schools with more liberal faculties.Similarly, the political scientists M. Kent Jennings and Laura Stoker analyzed data from a survey that tracked the political attitudes of about 1,000 high school students through their college years and into middle age. Their research found that the tendency of college graduates to be more liberal reflects to a large extent the fact that more liberal students are more likely to go to college in the first place.
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