Category Archives: Public Opinion

Gender differences on the value of higher education

The Pew Center has put together a study that show that half of women graduated from college rate the value of higher education as excellent or good while only 37% of their male colleagues do so. The differences are primarily in the percentage of graduates responding “good.”

Gender and higher education

The gender differences seem pretty consistent across a range of similar questions. Women just like college better.

Attitudes on higher education by gender


Public still values college degree

A new Gallup poll finds that almost 7 of of 10 U.S. adults agree that having a college degree is essential for getting a good job.

The poll also reveals that their primary interest in education is large income-related. That’s not to say that they do not also value becoming a well-rounded person or learning about the world. They just value money more.

Gallup Poll Results

When it’s being talked about in Doonesbury…

I’m sharing this strip because seeing arguments raised in Academically Adrift in Doonesbury tells us that the debate over them is going to be with us for a while.

It’s also a funny strip.

Trends in public opinion on higher education issues

Public Agenda, a non-partisan group devoted to exploring public policy issues, has produced a report (“Squeeze Play 2010: Continued Public Anxiety On Cost, Harsher Judgments On How Colleges Are Run“) that pulls together some trends in public opinion related to higher education issues. I’m not sure why they just released this report since the most recent poll data is from December 2009. Still, it’s a good look at some recent  trends that higher education needs to think about.

Reasons to be skeptical about these results

Before looking at these results closely we need to consider the problems with public opinion on issues like this. These surveys ask average citizens to make judgments about something that they have little specific knowledge about. Clearly, most Americans know little about how universities operate. In fact, most faculty do not know much about the specifics of how their universities operate. Pollsters often ask people about issues on which they are poorly informed all the time and we need to understand that as we look at their answers.

So, when Americans talk about what impact budget cuts would have on the quality of education, they’re talking more about what they prefer.

Reasons for concern

The report summarizes the tone of public opinion pretty well:

This does not mean that the public is actively hostile to higher education, but it does suggest that the public may not be especially sympathetic to the internal problems of the higher education system, either. Our findings suggest, in other words, that the public may be poised in a period of ambivalence and perhaps unpredictability toward the financial difficulties of higher education.

Skepticism is growing. Most Americans (55%) still believe that a college education is necessary for success but almost two-thirds believe that the cost is rising faster than for other things and that students have to borrow too much. Three-fifths believe that colleges could take more students without lowering the quality of education. Most alarming, Americans agree by almost two-to-one  that colleges today are more concerned with the bottom line than with educating students. That may not be accurate, but that is their perception

60% of respondents say colleges today are like most businesses and care mainly about the bottom line. 32 % say colleges today care mainly about education and making sure students have a good educational experience

You can see why we’re an easy target for politicians. In addition, there is always the resentment of the kind of elites we are portrayed as and other issues surrounding the “culture wars.”

Universities need to be concerned about public perceptions and simply claiming that we are misunderstood is not the answer.