Guess who skipped college? Lots of lawmakers

06/14/2014 11:00 AM

06/13/2014 10:55 PM

In case you blinked and missed it, a former Kansas legislator from Wichita was appointed and then quickly resigned as the inspector general of KanCare, the privatized Medicaid program. Amid other troubling issues for his critics was the fact that he holds no college degree.

Is the lack of a college degree a deficit when selecting leaders?

Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan holds no college degree. That didn’t stop the governor from selecting him, and it does not appear Jordan’s lack of credentials has adversely affected his job performance.

As far as the state Legislature is concerned, one in four legislators in both the state Senate and the House of Representatives do not have college degrees, an equal percentage for each chamber.

This is typical of the national average. One-fourth of all state legislators in America do not hold college degrees, and in Missouri, 28 percent hold no college degree. That is according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Still, it is jolting, particularly in the Kansas Senate, to see so many powerful leaders without college degrees, according to the 2014 Legislative Handbook.

Ty Masterson who heads the Senate Ways and Means Committee, one of the most powerful committees in the Legislature, graduated from August High School, after which Masterson attended Kansas State University without graduating.

Rob Olson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions, has only a degree from Mound City High School.

Steve Brunk, who leads the Senate’s Committee on Federal and State Affairs, lists his education as “not available.”

The chairman of the Committee on Utilities was Sen. Pat Apple. He holds a degree from Louisburg High School and Kansas City VoTech. He was just appointed to a key position on the Kansas Corporation Commission.

The vice chairman for the Committee on Utilities and Telecommunications in the Senate is Randy Garber, who holds a degree from Sabetha High School.

In the House, the very influential majority leader is Jene Vickrey. He graduated from Louisburg High School.

The House minority whip is Julie Menghini, who holds a degree from Pittsburg High School. Although she attended both Pittsburg State University and the University of Kansas, she holds no four-year degree.

Should all of this make any difference to the people of Kansas?

One can be plenty smart without a college degree. Just ask Bill Gates of Microsoft, who dropped out of college.

The question is, should we feel comfortable knowing that so many state leaders skipped college? It does bother me.

And is it not unreasonable to wonder whether higher education is a high priority or not to these leaders who have achieved what they have without a four-year degree?

State funding for higher education in Kansas has been on the steady decline, although in the last session there was some restoration to very steep prior cuts in our universities.

Gov. Sam Brownback, who holds a law degree, values higher education and has been pushing the Legislature hard to maintain its funding for our schools of higher learning.

With the inevitable budget cuts coming down the road, as our deficits explode from massive tax cuts, legislators will once again be looking to higher education to cut.

That’s when I hope that our legislative leaders without four-year degrees will not deprioritize higher education, which is one of the state’s most important economic development tools.

Education at all levels should be the highest priority of a state. I hope our legislators agree.

To reach Steve Rose, a longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to srose@kc.rr.com.

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