Americans’ Opinion of Higher Ed System at Record Lows

A growing number of Americans believe that colleges do a bad job of preparing students for the job market. A poll of Americans aged 18 and older conducted by Northeastern University last month showed that America’s opinion of its higher education system is so poor that fully 60% of respondents believed that a few years of work experience provided a better preparation for almost any job than a college degree.

Even though nearly 75% of those who answered thought that a college degree is more important now than it ever was, nine out of ten felt that the kind of education provided by most of the US colleges and universities wasn’t adequately preparing the country to compete in the global marketplace.

Still, for all the skepticism about higher education, a majority still believes that earning a degree is an important stepping stone to a fulfilling career. More than 55% of those who didn’t earn a degree thought that getting one would have aided their career in the long run.

Massive online open courses came under criticism from respondents. Although 56% believe that MOOCs will play a wholly transformative role in education in the future, fewer than one in three thought that they provided the same quality of instruction as a traditional classroom-and-teacher approach. Despite those feelings, the poll found that Americans were willing to make that tradeoff in order to gain the increased flexibility offered by online education. Nearly 75% thought that massive online open courses would aid students in earning their college degrees, and fewer than 40% thought that they weren’t going to be an accepted part of higher education in the future.

The poll also shows that Americans have decided opinions on the reasons behind high levels of unemployment or underemployment among college graduates. The fault, they think, lies chiefly with schools and the students themselves. Fifty-five percent believe that the reason grads are struggling to find a job is that they’re simply not prepared by their schools or their majors for entry-level work. 70% think that the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression also plays a role, along with companies moving their operations overseas to take advantage of more favorable labor laws and lower wages.

Responses about the importance of STEM education fell pretty much in line with recent trends, with 68% of those polled strongly agreeing that more college students should be encouraged to pursue majors in those fields.