Americans Recognize the Problems and Value of Higher Education

When Americans are questioned about the purpose and value of higher education, one thing remains clear. They believe higher education is important – to both individuals seeking the American dream, and to society as a whole. Survey results vary slightly depending on questions asked, but the value of higher education remains a constant theme.

Varying Degrees: New America’s Annual Survey on Higher Education presents the results of a survey of 1,600 Americans 18 and older. Generations of American may differ on their opinions, or the strength of their opinions, when asked about value of higher education, economic mobility and the connection between the two. Whatever the differences, however, each group acknowledges the value of higher education. In Varying Degrees, “The results show that people are aware that the American Dream is increasingly out of reach. They recognize, however, that higher education is an important social good. Not only do individuals with a college education make more over their lifetimes, a more educated populace will benefit society in multiple ways, including by increasing tax revenues and lowering unemployment.”

Americans recognize the relationship between jobs and education. About half of Americans believe that there are well-paying jobs that do not require a college degree. However, 52 percent of Generation Xers, in the prime working and earning ages of 38-52, and 42 percent of Millennials strongly or somewhat disagree with this statement. Americans that have been in the workforce for a while and have job seeking experience, and the group that will ultimately be the majority of the workforce understand the value of higher education when they are seeking jobs or trying to move up the ladder in business.

Whether or not Americans think there are well-paying jobs without a college degree, 75 percent agree that it is easier to be successful with a degree than without one. The same percentage of people believes that higher education is a social good or both a social good and private benefit. People who complete their education will find success in business and also contribute more to society in terms of greater economic productivity with higher taxes and lower unemployment along with greater social involvement.

Americans see the value of education, but they also realize getting an education isn’t necessarily easy. Only 25 percent of Americans think the higher education system is fine as is, and only 13 percent of Millennials, who will be the most educated generation so far, believe this. Accessibility and completion problems are obvious:
• Only 40 percent of American believes that all Americans have a decent chance of getting into a good college.
• Only 46 percent of people think that most people who go to college finish with a degree.
National statistics show that:
• Only 59 percent of full-time, first-time students at four-year schools complete a degree in six years.
• Only 32 percent of full-time, first-time students at two year school completed a degree in three years.

The contrast between the value of higher education and the challenges Americans face in achieving that goal creates an opportunity for involvement and change. American businesses can influence accessibility and completion rates with well thought-out tuition assistance plans. The opportunity for employees to access higher education results in public, business and personal gain. Clear career paths aligned with counseling and education paths will lead employees towards completion.