Americans' confidence in higher education drops 21 points since 2015

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Americans’ confidence in higher education has been steadily eroding for several years, and fresh data shows the trend is ongoing amid rising concerns over political agendas being pushed on campuses and whether the cost of a college degree is worth it.

New results from a poll conducted by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation released Monday show only 36% of U.S. adults have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education, down from 57% in 2015.

Another 32% of respondents said they have some confidence in higher education, and another 32% said they had very little or no faith in such institutions at all.

The pollsters reported that confidence in higher education has fallen among all subgroups of the U.S. population over the past two decades, but the sharpest decline this year was among Republicans. Nine years ago, 56% of Republicans had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education, but today, the share has plummeted to 20%. 

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But GOP voters aren’t alone. Confidence among independents has fallen from 48% to 35% since 2015, and among Democrats, it has dropped from 68% down to 56%.

Of those who are not confident in higher education, the top reason cited was concerns over political agendas at 41%, followed by 37% who said colleges have the wrong focus or do not teach the right things. Another 28% expressed concerns over the cost of college.

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The poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 people from June 2-23, found the public is not optimistic about higher education’s future, either.

Only 31% of respondents said higher education is on the right path, while 68% said it is going in the wrong direction.

The analysis warned that the findings could threaten the future of higher education institutions in the U.S.

“The story is largely a political one, with relatively few Republicans expressing confidence in colleges and universities, primarily because they feel colleges are pushing liberal political agendas on students,” Gallup senior editor Jeffrey M. Jones, Ph.D., wrote in a post reporting the results. “But the drop in confidence extends beyond purely political motives to questions about the relevance to the workforce of what students are being taught and the high cost of college.”

 

Jones added, “To the extent these views are held by parents and young adults, it could lead to drops in college applications and enrollment.”

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