Overall, Americans are growing more skeptical of a college degree's value, report Josh Mitchell and Douglas Belkin for the Wall Street Journal.
In fact, only 49% of Americans believe that a college education leads to greater financial earnings, compared with 47% of Americans who don't, according to a recent telephone survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.
The stark divide highlights growing public skepticism of college education that falls along education, gender, and partisan lines, write Mitchell and Belkin.
The survey's respondents included 1,200 adults across the United States. Researchers gathered and analyzed responses around the value of a college education; they were able to identify specific demographic groups that are growing more skeptical of degrees.
Group 1: Those without a college education
- More than half of respondents without a bachelor's degree believe that college isn't worth it, compared with just over 40% in 2013; and
- About 63% of respondents with a bachelor's degree believe that college is worth it, a proportion unchanged since 2013.
Group 2: Men
- Male respondents who believe that college is not worth the cost hold a ten-point margin over men who consider college worth it;
- This is the opposite of what researchers saw in 2013, when men who considered college worth it held a 12-point margin over men who did not; and
- More than half of female respondents still value a bachelor's degree, a proportion unchanged since 2013.
Groups 3 and 4: Both Republicans and Democrats
- The proportion of Republicans who believe that a college education is not worth it has jumped 14 percentage points, from 38% in 2013 to 52% in 2017;
- Similarly, the proportion of Democrats who don't believe in the value of a bachelor's degree has jumped 10 percentage points from 33% in 2013 to 43% in 2017; and
- Only 42% of respondents who voted for Donald Trump say college is worth it, versus 60% of respondents who voted for Hilary Clinton.
Group 5: People living in rural areas
- Only 31% of respondents who live in rural areas believe college is worth it;
- Compared with 52% of respondents who live in an urban setting; and
- About 54% of respondents who live in suburban areas.
What rural students want from college
Although respondents are divided about whether a bachelor's degree is worth the cost, research has shown that, on average, graduates fare better than those without a college degree, report Mitchell and Belkin.
Americans may be put off by rising tuition costs, says Doug Webber, an economics professor at Temple University.
Others, like Jeff McKenna, a mechanic in Loveland, Colorado, believe that trade schools offer financial security without the heavy debt, report Mitchell and Belkin.
To respond to concerns about cost, many colleges are offering scholarships and cutting tuition, write Mitchell and Belkin. Some institutions are rethinking the way they communicate the value of a bachelor's degree, says Heather Swain, VP for communications and brand strategy at Michigan State University.
But for many, the turn in public opinion is startling, says Joseph Glover, provost at University of Florida. According to Glover, there's disconnect on the value of college between those who developed an appreciation for life-long learning and those who did not.
Those who are skeptical of a college degree may not understand the value higher education brings to society at large, says Glover (Dann, NBC News, 9/11; Mitchell/Belkin, Wall Street Journal, 9/11).
Are students moving towards value?
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