The differences in educational attainment among members of Congress has shifted over the last 25 years, partly a result from a "more affluent and highly education Democratic Party," Ben Myers and Peter Olsen-Phillips write for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
To complete this analysis, the Chronicle looked at the educational background of every member of the U.S. House of Representatives in every session of Congress since 1992. They used data from VoteSmart, the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Official Congressional Directories, and member websites.
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They found 3 major differences in educational attainment among Democrats and Republicans in the House:
First, Democrats are now more likely to have attended private colleges than Republicans. Today, 50% of Democrats in the House of Representatives have an undergraduate degree from a private college or university, whereas only 39% of Republicans do. This reverses a historical trend: 25 years ago 44% of Democrats and 47% of Republicans in the House had degrees from private institutions.
Second, Democrats are now more likely to have attended Ivy League colleges than Republicans. Today, 12.8% of Democrats in the House of Representatives have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League institution, whereas only 4.2% of Republicans do. However, 25 years ago the gap was much narrower—7.4% of Democrats and 6.8% of Republicans had a degree from an Ivy League institution.
Third, Republicans are more likely to have medical degrees. While Democrats consistently have a greater share of the law degrees and doctorates in the House, Republicans have the greater share of medical degrees.
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There does appear to be a correlation between representatives' voting history and educational attainment. Craig Volden, a professor of public policy and an associate dean at the University of Virginia, found that when lawmakers have attended an elite institution, they tend to introduce and advance substantial legislation and vote according to a more liberal ideology.
However, it is unclear why this is the case. Volden says other factors, such as representatives' financial background and the ideologies of the constituencies they represent, could also play a role (Meyers/Olsen-Phillips, Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/5).
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