Despite a body of research showing many Americans recognize the value of higher education, most say the nation’s postsecondary education system is heading in the wrong direction, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.
The results of the survey, published last week, found that about 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) said they think higher education in America is off track. Pew polled nearly 4,600 adults in a nationally representative survey earlier this summer, with 2.4 percentage point margin of error. While Americans, regardless of political party, agreed that higher education in the United States is in need of improvement, their reasoning as to why was vastly different.
"Republicans and Democrats are worlds apart when it comes to some of the reasons why they think higher education is going in the wrong direction," a blog post on the survey said.
Researchers found that overall, the most commonly cited reasons were high tuition costs (84 percent of all respondents), students not getting the skills they need in the workplace (65 percent), colleges and universities being too concerned about protecting students from views they might find offensive (54 percent), and professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom (50 percent).
But when broken down by political affiliation, age, and educational background, those responses shifted.
Republicans were most likely to say higher education is heading in the wrong direction because of professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom (79 percent), or concern over protecting students from views they might find offensive (75 percent). By comparison, 17 percent and 31 percent of Democrats said the same. This view falls in line with a Gallup survey released last August that showed Republicans’ distrust of higher education is due more to political issues than operational issues.
Overall, Democrats were most likely to say higher education is heading in the wrong direction due to high tuition costs (92 percent) and students not getting the skills they need to succeed (73 percent).
Younger Republicans were less likely to say higher education is going in the wrong direction due to social and political issues. Nearly all Republicans over 65 (96 percent) said the need for course correction in higher education is due to professors’ social and political views, compared with 58 percent of those between 18 and 34.
Still, Republicans and Democrats appeared to agree on the importance of free speech.
"When asked about the trade-off between allowing free speech, however distasteful, on college campuses versus protecting students from views they may find offensive, the public comes down clearly on the side of free speech," the blog post said.
Publication Date: 7/30/2018