Key Education Issues Dividing Public, College Presidents, Study Finds
The general public and university presidents disagree about the purpose of college, who ought to pay for it and whether today's students are getting their money's worth.
But university presidents and the average American agree that the cost of higher education now exceeds the reach of most people.
Those are broad findings from a pair of surveys released late Sunday from the nonprofit Pew Research Center. The surveys took place this March and April, one posing college-related questions to 2,142 American adults, the other to 1,055 presidents of colleges large, small, public, private and for-profit. The two surveys contained some identical questions and some peculiar to each group.
The surveys show the two groups dividing along predictable fault lines. The idea that students and families should bear the largest share of college costs won approval from almost two-thirds of college presidents—but from only 48% of the general public. As for the value of a college degree, a majority of Americans say it isn't worth the cost—or anyway that "it fails to provide good value for the money students and their families spend," said the 159-page Pew report on the two surveys.
Document from Pew Research Center
University presidents, meanwhile, suggest that quality-of-learning concerns might better be focused on high school; 58% of university presidents say that high schools are doing a worse job than they did a decade ago at preparing students for college.
Clearly, college remains a big part of the American dream. Of the surveyed adults who had at least one child under age 18, 94% said they expect that child to attend college, and 53% said they are saving to pay for it.
But college isn't their highest priority. When asked what it takes for a young person to succeed, the general public listed a college education as less important than a good work ethic, ability to get along with people and work skills learned on the job.
Moreover, 57% of 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed who had no bachelor's degree and weren't enrolled in college said they would rather work and make money than go to school. Two-thirds of that group attributed the discontinuation of their education to a need to support their families.
In both graduates and nongraduates of college, the survey found strikingly accurate assessments of the earnings value of a college degree. On average, graduates estimated that they earn $20,000 a year for having obtained a degree. That's that same amount that adults with only a high-school degree believe that their lack of a college degree is costing them per year. Both of those estimates are consistent with actual research on the two groups, the Pew study said.
Only 22% of the general population surveyed believes that most people can afford a college education today—a decline from 39% of Americans who felt that way a quarter century ago, Pew said.
The survey of college presidents, conducted in conjunction with the Chronicle of Higher Education, found that while six in 10 believe that American higher education is headed in the right direction, four in 10 see it headed the other way.
Only 19% of college presidents see U.S. higher education as best in the world, and only 51% see it as one of the best. Yet among presidents of highly selective colleges and universities, 40% see the U.S. system as tops in the world.
Write to Kevin Helliker at firstname.lastname@example.org