How do Americans really feel about higher education?
To find out, the think tank New America conducted a survey of 1,600 American adults. The survey respondents represented a diverse range of ages, demographics, socio-economic statuses, and political ideologies.
Overall, the survey found that Americans still believe college is valuable: about three-quarters of respondents said it is easier to be successful in life with a college degree than without one. Furthermore, of the respondents:
- More than 60% said higher education is good for society;
- 79% said that most people benefit from enrolling in college; and
- 71% believe that college is primarily a social good or both a social good and a private benefit.
Despite the widespread recognition that a college education is important and beneficial, however, many respondents also expressed some skepticism toward colleges and how well they serve their students. Of the respondents:
- 58% of respondents believe colleges put their own long-term interests ahead of those of their students;
- 46% said they think that "most people who go to college finish with a degree"; and
- 42% said college is necessary for job success.
What success means to your students, in their own words
Millennial respondents were particularly disillusioned with higher education. Of the millennial respondents:
- 64% believe colleges put their own interests first; and
- Only 13% say higher education is fine as is.
However, the survey shows positive perceptions of community colleges across the board. Of the respondents, 82% said that community colleges are worth the cost, compared with 61% who said the same for public, four-year institutions, 43% who said the same for private colleges, and 40% who said the same for for-profit colleges. Nearly two-thirds said that community colleges always put their students first.
The youngest survey respondents—those from Generation Z—viewed community colleges in the most positive light out of all generations.
Rachel Fishman, a senior policy analyst at New America and a co-author of the report, points out that "Two-year community colleges really seem to be having a moment" (Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 5/11; Kelderman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/11).
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