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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
The members of Alabama's Legislature tend to be more
educated than their counterparts in other states, and a comparatively high
percentage of them graduated from a public university within their home state.
I'll leave it up to Alabama residents to decide if that
higher education makes their legislators
better-than-average lawmakers. But it almost certainly helps to create a
more sympathetic audience in the Legislature for public higher education
"There is no doubt that you have some benefit to the
fact you have legislators who have a loyalty to public universities," said
Gordon Stone, executive director of the Alabama Higher Education Partnership,
an advocacy group for the state's public four-year universities.
A report by the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that
about 35 percent of Alabama's legislators have a bachelor's degree, and 47
percent have a college education beyond a bachelor's degree.
While the Chronicle report did not break out how many
lawmakers had two-year college degrees, it did indicate that 9 percent of
Alabama legislators report that they had "some college." That leaves just 3 percent who report
That compares to an average in all states of 34 percent
of legislators with a bachelor's degree and 41 percent with beyond a
bachelor's. The percentage of Alabama legislators with a college education also
far surpasses the average of all Alabamians, which is 14 percent with a
bachelor's degree and 8 percent beyond a bachelor's degree, according to the
Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Chronicle report shows that 65 percent of Alabama
legislators who attended college attended one within their home state, compared
to an average of 55 percent nationally. In addition, of those legislators who
attended college, 24 percent in Alabama attended a home-state college as well
as one out of state, compared to an average of 20 percent in all states.
Of Alabama's 140 legislators, 130 attended a public
college, according to the report. Again, that is a higher percentage than in
the average of all state legislatures.
According to the report, 32 legislators attended the
University of Alabama, 24 attended Auburn University, 11 attended Alabama State
University, 10 attended the University of Alabama Birmingham, and eight
attended Troy University. Seven legislators attended South Alabama and seven
attended Jacksonville State, according to the Chronicle.
Nationally, 17.2 percent of state legislators hold a law
degree. In Alabama, 19.4 percent do so.
So which state has the best educated Legislature?
It depends on how you define best educated. California has 90 percent of
lawmakers with at least a bachelor's degree — the highest percentage in the
nation. But Virginia has the highest
percentage with both bachelor's and advanced degrees (58 percent).
All those statistics brings up an issue almost as old as
the U.S. democratic experiment: Is it better for a legislative body to mirror
the makeup of the electorate it represents, or is it better for it to be better
educated than that electorate?
article accompanying its survey, the Chronicle pointed out that founding father
argued that governmental decisions are best mediated by a body of citizens
"whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their
country." But in 1776, founder John Adams wrote that the representative
assembly "should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.
It should think, feel, reason, and act like them."
in the real world, does having a large number of graduates in the Legislature
from public colleges and universities help them to lobby for funding?
said that in Alabama, a much bigger factor compared to other states is that
"our revenue streams have been so constrained."
though our legislators have an appreciation and have an awareness of what we
do, they are placed in some extremely
difficult dilemmas in trying to determine where to prioritize the
dollars," Stone said. "We do find, however, that there is a
willingness to listen, there is an open door for our positions to be heard from
the majority of the members of the Alabama Legislature, and we appreciate
state revenues have faltered in recent years, the fact that a large number
of legislators are alumni of state
public colleges certainly hasn't stopped the Alabama Legislature from cutting
or reducing the rate of growth in higher education funding.
But historically, per capita state funding for
higher education in Alabama usually ranks among the top third of states, while
per capita funding for public schools is usually near the bottom among the
states. So it could be argued that despite the funding woes of recent years,
Alabama still funds its overall public higher education system better than many
other public services.
perhaps having all those graduates of Alabama public colleges in the
Legislature is helping after all.