Gallup, Lumina Reveal Public Attitudes on Higher Education

Do Americans think that education beyond high school is vitally important, and what barriers hold some of them back from having post-secondary degrees and certificates? The Indiana-based Lumina Foundation teamed up with Gallup to ask 1,001 Americans these and other questions. The poll was released February 5, reports the Fort Mill Times, and it shows that Americans take higher education seriously.

The poll of adults over 18, including houses with landlines and cell-only households, showed that no more than 3% are willing to say that education past high school is not important for financial security. Those without any education past high school often think about trying to go back for more certification, even in later life.

  • Those respondents who do not have a certificate or degree beyond high school agree that if they did, they would feel more secure in their job (58 percent) and in their financial future (64 percent).
  • In the last year, 41 percent of Americans have thought about going back to school to earn a degree or certificate, with 42 percent of those saying they are very likely to do so.

38% of Gallup’s respondents believed that higher education has gotten better in recent years. The rest were divided almost equally between thinking that education quality had stayed the same or had gotten worse. They seemed to have the least faith in education innovators, since most said that traditional colleges and universities were the best.

Only 11% “strongly agreed” that online universities “offer a high quality of education.” It could be worse for online education, though, since 72% were willing to agree to that statement with a rating of 3 or more (with 5 as the strongest agreement). By contrast, only 4% were not willing to rate agreement at 3 or more for the high quality of traditional colleges. Community colleges fared well; only 10% of respondents could not agree to the high quality of community college as strongly a 3 or better on that scale.

Is college affordable? Americans seem to give a resounding “no.” But cost was not cited as the biggest barrier to re-enrolling as an adult. 36% rated family responsibilities as a greater barrier than cost, followed by job responsibilities as the third barrier. It would help adults re-enroll a lot if they could somehow get credit for what they had learned through experience, and 87% of Gallup’s respondents believed that it should be possible to get this credit. 75% of them said that they would be much more likely to go back to school, themselves, if they knew they could get experience credits.

Perhaps the most radical suggestion that Gallup’s respondents approved was the idea that classroom time should become flexible, with an emphasis on mastering material, not going through a full semester or year:

Seventy percent don’t believe learning should be time based and agree that if a student demonstrates they have mastered class material in less than the traditional 16-week session, they should be able to get credit for the course without sitting through the entire 16 weeks.

When asked what would be the best way to get help with the cost of higher education, respondents may have had in mind their concerns about government spending. 59% strongly agreed that colleges should just reduce tuition, and the next largest group, 46%, hoped that companies would help their employees with tuition costs. Government assistance, whether state or federal, was the only suggestion that got two-digit “strong disagree” replies. As many as 15% worry that increased federal assistance is the wrong way to go, compared to only 6% who didn’t like the idea of private companies helping their employees.

“The Gallup/Lumina poll shows that the vast majority of Americans believe that increasing college attainment is essential, while at the same time recognizing that significant change is needed in the current system,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president of Lumina Foundation. “Americans want a more accessible and affordable system of higher education, one that does more to recognize and reward the personal skills, knowledge and abilities that are genuinely valued in the workplace and can be linked to future learning opportunities.”

Lumina’s goal in commissioning the Gallup study was to find how best to help Americans meet the goal of increasing higher education levels to 60% by the year 2025.

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