Why do Republicans hate higher education? Here’s the sinister reason | Opinion

Even before the embarrassing performances of the presidents of MIT, Harvard and UPenn on anti-Semitism in December, Republican leaders — particularly those representing the least educated voters — have been assailing American universities, dragging them into conservatives’ latest culture wars.

In September, the Republican auditor of Mississippi — the second-most uneducated state — called several social science and humanities degree programs at state universities “indoctrination factories.” Among the “garbage fields” in that audit were anthropology, sociology and — of course — African American studies.

The same month, in West Virginia — the most poorly educated state — 28 majors and 143 faculty positions were eliminated at West Virginia University, whose budget was cut 36% between 2013 and 2022 by its Republican-dominated legislature. One third of WVU’s education department faculty was fired along with its entire world language department. The university’s board also proposed cutting its graduate programs in mathematics.


These examples are on top of more than 30 bills written last year by Republican lawmakers across at least a dozen states, targeting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher education.

Perhaps the clearest, if superficial, explanation of conservatives’ beef with colleges came from Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson of Louisiana — the fourth-most uneducated state — during a November interview: “The Republican Party is attracting less and less more highly educated voters,” Johnson explained, “because they spend so much time in the academy” — which, he said, was run by “liberals almost entirely.”

“So these students are being indoctrinated,” Johnson said.

He got one part right: The educated don’t like Republicans.

“Highly educated adults — particularly those who have attended graduate school — are far more likely than those with less education to take predominantly liberal positions,” per a 2016 Pew Research report, which found Americans with graduate degrees are five times more likely to be “consistently liberal” than those with a high school degree or less.

There’s good reason Donald Trump said, “I love the poorly educated.” The poorly educated love conservatives. In 2020, Trump won 56% of high school-educated voters and dropouts; Biden won 56% of college-educated voters and 67% of post-graduate voters.

So, are our universities producing “indoctrinated” losers unprepared for the real world?

Hardly. And that’s where the Republican war on higher education completely unravels.

American colleges are producing objective social and economic successes — and by standards Republicans would normally applaud: College graduates earned 81% higher salaries than workers with high school degrees in 2022, per federal data. Moreover, college graduates are more likely to have full-time jobs that offer paid vacation, health insurance, retirement and flexible work arrangements, per a 2023 Public Policy Institute of California study.

Get this: College graduates are less likely to be unemployed, to commit crimes, to be incarcerated, to require welfare and to be depressed.

What about that lore of the successful college dropout? Mostly myth. Only 8% of the top 2,600 CEOs studied by Harvard Business Review in 2018 didn’t complete college.

So why the hate? Republicans don’t like the educated because the educated don’t like what conservatives are selling: simplistic, ahistorical, sometimes-hate-driven topical solutions to sophisticated, often systemic problems.

Public policy in a country with 330 million people is complicated. America’s biggest challenges — whether that’s homelessness, housing, immigration, public finance, environmental regulations, workplace protections, corporate tax rates or antitrust actions — are beyond complex.

Plus, some policies, like public health and climate change, require understanding the scientific method.

Convincing high school dropouts that climate change is a hoax and that vaccines don’t work is a lot easier than convincing doctoral-level scientists.

What underlies Republicans’ war on college is truly quite sinister: Instead of changing their policies to appeal to the educated, Republicans are dumbing down education to make their policies appealing.

Max Taves is a concerned Californian, a former columnist at The Wall Street Journal and CBS’ CNET and an award-winning former reporter at LA Weekly and Law.com.