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.”