FINDING No 4: High school graduates are more skeptical than college graduates about the motives of higher education institutions.
Public Agenda has been tracking the views of the general public about higher education for 18 years. Although colleges and universities generally retain the public’s admiration and respect, especially compared to other sectors like government or business, our surveys show a growing skepticism about the way higher education is run. Most Americans question whether their motives are mainly financial or mainly educational. Most also wonder whether colleges and universities are using the money they get from students and taxpayers as effectively as they can.
Most young adults share these concerns, with higher rates of high school graduates voicing concern than those with college degrees. For example, most young adults believe that there are many people in the United States who are qualified for college but don’t have the opportunity to go, a view that is held by a majority of Americans regardless of age. In fact, 71 percent of high school graduates say this is the case, compared with 59 percent of college graduates.
More than half of the public believes that colleges today behave more like “most businesses” and care more about the bottom line than about educating students. But these views are even stronger among the young adults surveyed for this project: 71 percent of high school graduates say this, as do 65 percent of college graduates. One young man in a D.C. focus group didn’t mince words: “Excuse me for my language, but I think people are really getting pimped. What they charge for things and how much just a book costs.” For this young man, the trade-off clearly wasn’t worth it. “And so many people have made millions without any [higher education],” he added.
Even so, a majority of all young adults continues to believe that someone who is willing to make sacrifices such as living at home or working part time can complete college (57 percent of all young adults strongly agreed). In fact, when asked who is to blame for the low completion rate at four-year colleges, young adults are more likely to point fingers at students themselves rather than at higher education institutions, high schools, parents, or government, regardless of whether they completed a degree.
Compared to young people with degrees, high school graduates are less confident about their financial prospects and much less likely to be on a solid career path.
Despite their worries about the future and mixed experiences with jobs, most high school graduates believe there are still ways to succeed at work without additional education.
High school graduates are less likely to say it's a good idea to borrow money to go to college.
High school graduates are more skeptical about the motives of higher education institutions than college graduates.
High school graduates have gaps in knowledge that could undercut their own ability to get a college degree in the future.
Implications and questions
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