Are you a snob?

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum received quite a bit of criticism for calling President Obama a “snob” for suggesting people should go to college.

As reported by The Washington Post, Santorum, a conservative who has played up his working-class upbringing, said during a campaign stop in Troy, Mich.: “Not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands .... President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

The Post’s Sandhya Somashekhar and David Nakamura wrote, “To some critics, this latest attack goes beyond his typical anti-elite rhetoric and flies in the face of what has long been drilled into American families: that a college education is the most certain path to a brighter future for students as well as the country.”

In the president’s defense, Obama said his higher education agenda includes helping people who do not attend traditional universities, the Post article said.

In an address Monday to the National Governors Association, Obama responded indirectly to Santorum with: “I’m not only talking about four-year degrees. I’m also talking about going to community college to get a degree for a manufacturing job where you have to walk through the door to handle a million-dollar piece of equipment.”

Personally, I’ve been called a snob -- although that exact word wasn’t used -- for going to college. While I was getting my degree at the University of Maryland, one relative said to me, “You think you so much better than us because you’re in college.” That hurt. There was no provocation for the comment. I hadn’t bragged about getting a college degree nor looked down on that relative for her lack of a degree.

But I wonder whether by touting college as the only way to achieve success we aren’t diminishing people who don’t go to college?

I think Santorum was out of line for calling Obama a snob, but there is some truth in his trash-talking. There are folks right now looking for jobs who have years of excellent on-the-job training who can’t get employment because they don’t have a college degree. They are competing for those jobs with holders of college degrees, even though the former have more experience. It’s as if all their work or training doesn’t count for anything without a degree. For example, I know several people who worked for government contractors who started out in administrative positions and eventually moved up to management jobs before being laid off. Now they are having trouble finding a management position without a college degree.

When I suggest that students save money by attending a community college first and then transferring to a four-year, some people look at me funny. They seem to be implying that community colleges aren’t good enough. They are being snobs. Just like with four-year schools, there are good and bad community colleges.

As the cost of college keeps rising, we need to explore ways for people to get affordable employment training so they can get good-paying jobs that allow them to raise a family, buy a home and save for retirement. For many, that may mean a college education. For others, it may not.

That’s what I think. What about you? The Color of Money Question of the Week: Are we pushing college on people – who could wind up stuck with decades of debt -- because we think it’s the only answer to the high life? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Are You a Snob?” in the subject line.

Extreme Job Interviewing

There were extreme home makeover shows and extreme weight loss programs, and now companies are putting job applicants through extreme job interviewing.

“No longer satisfied with sorting through résumés and screening applicants the traditional way, some companies are using offbeat interview techniques to test the mettle of job seekers,” reports Tiffany Hsu in the Los Angeles Times.

For example, one company asked candidates for its internship program to apply via a series of 13 Twitter messages, which are limited to 140 characters per tweet.

As Hsu points out, with millions of people looking for work, employers have a lot of applicants to consider. “That gives the screening process heightened importance — firms have loads of qualified people to choose from, but a bad hire could hang around for years. Two candidates who look identical on paper and handle traditional interviews well may perform quite differently when pushed out of their comfort zone with extreme interviewing tactics.”

I’ve got another question for you. Have you experienced extreme interviewing techniques recently? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Extreme Job Interviewing” in the subject line.

He Said, “I Don’t” to a Bridezilla

In a recent online chat, Slate.com advice columnist Emily Yoffe responded to a reader who wanted to end his engagement. They guy said his fiancée had become an over-the-top diva or, in his words, “selfish, temperamental and materialistic,” since they had begun planning their wedding.

He wrote: “My fiancée has turned into another woman. She expects her parents, who are approaching retirement, to bankroll most of the wedding, and she continually demands items that are beyond their means. She becomes very angry with me when we disagree on major decisions (like location, menu, the band) because this is her special day and she has been planning her dream wedding since childhood. She never behaved like this before our engagement, and a number of people have assured me it’s the pressure of planning the wedding that’s making her act this way. I don’t think there’s any excuse for her behavior and have decided to break our engagement.”

Yoffe’s response: “We so rarely hear what the groom ends up thinking when he watches his betrothed turn into a termagant. I love the excuses that get offered for this behavior. If the pressure of planning a party destroys one’s equanimity and perspective, real life is going to be completely disabling.”

Yoffe told the guy that he should put off the wedding planning and get some counseling. “If she simply freaks out, then the kindest thing to say is the simplest: ‘Courtney, I love you, but I don’t love what’s happening between us. We need to stop wedding planning, because the wedding is off.’”

That’s spot-on advice. If something like this comes up while you’re preparing for your wedding, don’t ignore it. Planning a wedding shouldn’t turn you into a shrew.

The Wealthy Want More

A survey by psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley found that people who consider themselves financially better off are more likely to lie and cheat compared with those who are not, reports Amanda Gardner of Health.com.

“Elevated wealth status seems to make you want even more, and that increased want leads you to bend the rules or break the rules to serve your self-interest,” said Paul Piff, the lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in psychology at the university.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were drawn from seven separate experiments that together included more than 1,000 people.

“We’re not saying you should distrust the rich, or the rich are corrupt,” said Piff. “Instead, this highlights the disparities in social environments -- that different positions occupied give rise to almost natural tendencies and divergent social values.”

However, Robert Gore, an associate professor of psychology at Alliant International University in San Francisco, pointed out in the article that class, status and ethics are all slippery concepts that are difficult to pin down in experiments. Gore said: “This study really shows that people who identify as in a higher social class are more likely to admit unethical behavior. It’s not clear whether they actually behave worse or just claim to.”

Responses to “Charging for Detention”

Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago charges students for detention. The Associated Press reported that students at the network’s 10 high schools pay $5 every time they are sent to detention for infractions that even include chewing gum and having untied shoelaces.

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Do you think it’s a good policy to charge students for detention?”

Michael Bader of Denver thought the detention tax was a great idea. “I find it interesting that rather than see to it that their kids tie their shoes or button their clothing, the people would rather use the ‘class card’ when in reality these are the kids that most need to understand how to live in society.”

Most others who responded disagreed.

“The charging for detention rule is absolutely appalling,” wrote Allison Schentrup of San Francisco. “First, let’s address the fact that an 8-year-old does not make any money, so the $5 fee they are forced to pay is right out of their parent’s pocket (hence arguably more of a punishment for the parent than the student). Second, the model may follow parking tickets, but not much else in the way of ‘real life’ circumstances, which means the students are not being adequately prepared for adulthood.”

Tiffany L. of Alexandria, La., wrote: “This policy teaches children that their parents can ‘pay’ their way out of trouble. What kind of message is that for a child?”

“I thought that detention itself served that purpose,” said Chris Oberlin of Bethesda. “The fact that the Noble Network of Charter Schools collected almost $190,000 in fees at its 10 high schools suggests the possibility that this has less to do with turning kids into upstanding citizens and more to do with being an additional revenue stream.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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