Poll Finds Minorities More Optimistic About Value of College Degrees

A new poll shows that minority students were considerably more optimistic than whites that more access to education will mean greater opportunities, both personally and throughout the economy. The poll examined public attitudes about pathways to opportunity and the persistence of educational and economic gaps among the races in an increasingly diversifying America.

The College Board/National Journal Next America Poll found that whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans all agreed that the United States still provides young people from any racial background an adequate chance to succeed, writes Ronald Brownstein of National Journal.

According to survey, solid majorities of Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and, to a slightly lesser extent, African-Americans all agreed that "young people today need a four-year college degree in order to be successful."

Jason Parkinson, a 29-year-old electrician from Cleveland, doesn't consider it much of a handicap that he never obtained a four-year college degree after high school. "It doesn't do any good anymore," he says. "You get a four-year degree, you work at a fast-food restaurant. You can go to trades and manufacturing…. I'm not big on going to college for a career that might not even be there in 10 years."

Minorities were also far more likely than whites to say the economy would benefit if the United States meets President Obama's goal of increasing by half the share of Americans with postsecondary degrees by 2020.

"The higher the education mark, the more competitive we're going to be in the world economy," said Jose Stathas, a 47-year-old assistant to the owner at a pottery company in Buena Park, Calif. "There's a lot of talk of the rise and fall of the U.S. Unless we step it up a notch, there are going to be parts of the world that eat our lunch."

According to the survey, minorities were much more likely than whites to believe that increasing spending on education would do more than cutting taxes to improve the economy in their community. Both whites and Asians were far more likely than Hispanics and African-Americans to say that the best way to control mounting student loan debt is for colleges to hold down costs rather than for government to provide greater financial assistance.

While most minority families continue to see educational attainment as the key to fulfilling the American Dream that each generation will live better than its predecessor, this survey, like other recent polls, suggests that many whites appear uncertain that any path can still yield that outcome.

The poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. It surveyed 1,272 adults ages 18 and older Oct. 14-24, in English and Spanish, through landlines and cell phones. It includes over-samples of 245 African-Americans, 229 Hispanics, and 107 Asian-Americans.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the overall sample, 5.3 percentage points for whites, 8.8 percentage points for African-Americans and Hispanics, and 14.7 percentage points for Asian-Americans.

The survey is one component of National Journal's Next America project, which examines how changing demography is affecting the national agenda.

11 14, 2013
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