Well, we’ve had eleven Presidents who never graduated from college: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley and Harry Truman. Most of those Presidents had very little education at all. Andrew Johnson never went to school. At all. He didn’t spend one day in school at any level. He taught himself to read with borrowed or gift books that he received while he was an indentured servant to a tailor. When Johnson got married at the age of 18, his 16-year-old wife taught him how to write and do arithmetic. On the other side of the ledger, Woodrow Wilson was the only President with a doctorate, George W. Bush was the only President with an MBA, and Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar who attended Oxford for a while. Of course, many of the earlier Presidents had extensive, classical educations and were fluent in several languages. There have been 27 Presidents who passed the bar exam.
As for your second question, I think that there’s an unwritten rule today about education requirements for everything. If you don’t have a college degree, you have far less opportunities open to you, no matter what your life experience might be. And many people — myself included — had fewer opportunities to go to college from the outset because of where we were from or where we went to school. So, it’s not just limited to the Presidency.
Most definitely. There were many Presidents who attended non-Ivy League universities:
•Thomas Jefferson: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
•James Monroe: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
•William Henry Harrison: Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, Virginia (Attended 1787-1790 but did not graduate)
•John Tyler: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
•James K. Polk: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
•Franklin Pierce: Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
•James Buchanan: Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania
•Ulysses S. Grant: United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
•Rutherford B. Hayes: Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
•James Garfield: Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts
•Chester A. Arthur: Union College, Schenectady, New York
•Benjamin Harrison: Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
•William McKinley: Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania
•William Howard Taft: University of Cincinnati Law School, Cincinnati, Ohio (Also earned a degree from the Ivy League’s Yale)
•Woodrow Wilson: Earned Ph.D from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland (Also earned a degree from the Ivy League’s Princeton)
•Warren G. Harding: Ohio Central College, Iberia, Ohio
•Calvin Coolidge: Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts
•Herbert Hoover: Stanford University, Palo Alto, California
•Dwight D. Eisenhower: United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
•Lyndon B. Johnson: Southwest Texas State Teachers College, San Marcos, Texas
•Richard Nixon: Whittier College, Whittier, California; Duke University Law School, Durham, North Carolina
•Gerald Ford: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan (Also earned a degree from the Ivy League’s Yale University Law School)
•Jimmy Carter: United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
•Ronald Reagan: Eureka College, Eureka, Illinois
•Bill Clinton: Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (Also spent two years at Oxford University in England and earned a law degree from the Ivy League’s Yale University Law School)
•Barack Obama: Spent two years at Occidental College, Los Angeles, California before transferring and earning degrees from the Ivy league’s Columbia University and Harvard Law School
•Jefferson Davis: Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky before transferring and graduating from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
I attended college for a few classes — and by “a few classes” I mean that I literally went to a handful of class sessions before recognizing that I needed to focus on my job which provided me with my only source of income and which I was quite committed to.
I wish I had come from a place where I had the opportunity to focus on college, afford tuition, and afford the time needed to work hard at higher education. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t my lot in life when I graduated from high school.
In my opinion, college is important and probably a necessity for anyone today who hopes for a job with a comfortable salary and upward momentum. I always had trouble with the whole idea of sitting in class, so perhaps it just wasn’t for me. Do I wish I had a degree? Absolutely, it would make many things in life much easier. Do I think that I’m handicapped or lacking in anything other than a better resume? No. I think I’ve done quite well for myself and I hope to continue improving.
From years of working with people in very different educational settings, I am one of the strongest believers in the fact that we all learn differently and am a devout adherent to Bloom’s Taxonomy. I actually believe that I learned more through not having a traditional education than I would have otherwise. This is a whole different subject than the Presidency, but I am a forceful advocate for diverse delivery methods in education which matches the cognitive needs and preferences of individual students.
More Presidents — eight, including the last two Presidents — have attended Harvard than any other university.
The last President who did not graduate from college was Harry Truman. In fact, Truman is the only President in the 20th or 21st Centuries to not earn a college degree.
Truman had hoped to apply to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York or the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland but his poor eyesight prevented him from doing so. Truman served in the Missouri National Guard from 1905-1911 and eventually went to France and saw combat during World War I from 1917-1919. Truman fired one of the final shots of the great war minutes before the Armistice took effect.
When Truman decided to enter politics, he enrolled in the Kansas City Law School. Truman spent two years in law school, but juggling his law studies was difficult as he had already been elected a judge for the Eastern District of Jackson County, Missouri. Truman left Kansas City Law School in 1925 without a degree, but by then his political career had already begun to skyrocket.