Education gap on Wichita City Council

Before Jim Skelton left the council in January, none of the four men serving on the Wichita City Council had completed a college degree. The three women serving on the council set a better example, with all three holding college degrees.

Of the candidates running in next week’s election for four council seats and the office of mayor, less than half hold college degrees.

Is it necessary to complete college in order to serve in an office like mayor or city council? Apparently none of the four men who held these offices without a degree thought so. The two running to retain their present positions — Mayor Carl Brewer and council member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) — evidently don’t think so, or they would not be running again.

But we tell young people that college holds the key to success. We encourage schoolchildren to consider college and to take a rigorous high school curriculum in order to prepare for it. We encourage families to save for college. Our region’s economic development agency promotes the number of people with college or advanced degrees. We promote our colleges and universities as a factor that distinguishes Wichita. We hope that our elected officials will set an example we want young people to follow.

Once in office, we ask our city elected officials to attempt to grasp and understand complex sets of financial data, working with a budget of about half a billion dollars for the City of Wichita. We hope that they will be able to consider large and weighty issues such as the role of government in a free society. Members of the professional management staff — bureaucrats — that manage the city, county, and state are generally required to hold college degrees.

The irony is that elected officials often are highly reliant on the bureaucratic staff for information, data, and advice, and this professional bureaucracy is often highly educated. Does this imbalance create problems?

Elected officials compared to regular people

Amazingly, it turns out that elected officials, as a group, are less knowledgeable about civics than the general population. That’s the finding of Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which surveyed Americans and their knowledge of civics in 2008. After analyzing the data, ISI concluded: “Simply put, the more you know about American government, history, and economics the less likely you are to pursue and win elective office.”

Related: Local elections, qualifications of Wichita’s elected officials.


8 thoughts on “Education gap on Wichita City Council”

  1. Well, dang. I scored 87.88%, thereby confirming that I’m altogether unqualified to run for office.

    That, and I’m female and lack a college degree. But I’m not sure I agree that that means I shouldn’t tell people college is valuable. It just means I dropped out because I was young and stupid. If anything, I can more credibly tell them “Don’t assume you can pick up the degree later. You don’t get the scholarships, and you may never find the time.”

  2. The issue is that candidates that are better educated are able to organize their thoughts and ideas better. Public policy; ordinances; statutes, and contracts are very complex and the highly educated candidates have a better understanding of the issues and are less dependent on the staff and special interest. Our Mayor was put on probation in his first semester at Friends University when his grade point average dropped to 1.6. It is ironic that Longwell served in the Maize School Board encouraging and requiring student achievement while failing himself in meeting the goals of higher education. Education without common sense is worthless, but the problem is that Mayor Brewer; Mr. Longwell; and now County Commissioner Skelton all lacked the common sense aspect of governing too. Councilwoman Schlapp also meets the dummy test with no college,

  3. A college degree doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is “smarter” and in a better position to lead. A number of college educated people tend to be over-educated in that they somehow think that they are more sophisticated and knowledgeable; however, that may not always be the case. Conversely the lack of a degree doesn’t necessarily mean an individual is less capable of leadership.

    Some of the most successful business people in this community don’t have college degrees. It is also true that being a successful businessman does not translate into being a successful public leader either.

    Our leadership should be elected on the combination of education, experience, and other factors. It is up to the voter to evaluate whether one factor should be given greater weight that another.

    You do make one valid point. The council had to deal with very complex issues. Not only financial issues but many legal issues as well. Council members should possess the intellectual capacities and skills to properly evaluate any given matter. Too often they rely on staff to guide them in the right direction; however, in many cases, staff does not necessarilypresent a complete picture of the many facets to a particular matter.

  4. Well, I didn’t know that higher education was so elusive to our esteemed City Council members. But I can’t say I am surprised.

    For example, I see from their votes that they don’t know much about economics or mathematics. Their votes to spend taxpayer money like it grows on trees is testament to their lack of classroom prowess.

  5. Anonymous and Ron made some really great points. There are other qualities that need to be present in addition to the already mentioned: honesty; integrity; independence; ethics and truth. Voter turnout is low because many political candidates do not have those qualities and the ones that do don’t stay in public office long. People are tired of the same stuff over and over. Special interest have an advantage whenever they can finance someone into office than they can control.

  6. I agree with Anonymous that leadership qualities and skills are important, but I can tell you that in conversation with two individuals that know and have evaluated Mayor Brewer concluded that he is lazy and certainly not a leader. The senior officer with 26 Army National Guard Captains under his command (when Brewer was part of the group) has stated that when evaluating the performance of all of his Captains, Brewer ranked 25 (with 26 being the lowest). In addition, the Supervisor that took over Brewer’s employees at Boeing/Spirit said that he has never met a lazier group of employees and they attributed that to Brewer’s leadership style.

  7. Ralph and others are SPOT ON–honesty; integrity; independence; ethics and truth. You know why these qualities are rarities for elected officials? The answer is two-fold. ONE: These attributes are harder and harder to find in the general population. And, TWO: if someone does exhibit them, they most often don’t have a desire to work in government. They are too busy being successful in their daily lives, work, families, church, etc. Every once in a while you find a public servant who truly has it all. That is simply rarer than rare unfortunately. To have principles, a backbone, common sense, leadership capabilities, speaking abilities, intuition, cunning, comprehension, ability to work well with others, etc…. These people run companies, large organizations, etc. Government often ends up just taking what it can get….the leftovers.

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