Are American attitudes towards higher education segmenting?

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll examines American attitudes towards higher education, and it’s very useful, even concerning stuff.

I’ll pull out the trends I find most interesting.

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To begin with, overall faith in higher ed is declining.

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 This is really just two data points (2013 and 2017) (or datasets) and it’s only one poll (of 1200 people).

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 But it comes very close to this Pew study from July in finding growing divisions about post-secondary education within the United States.

attitudes towards academia_WSJ-NBC 2017

The important bit is the color bars shifting.

One detail: young people (Millennials, Zers) have become more skeptical over the past four years, while their elders (Xers, Boomers, etc) haven’t changed much.*

Another detail: the gender shift.  Men are more skeptical, while women haven’t altered their view.

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 “[F]our years ago, men by a 12-point margin saw college as worth the cost. Now, they say it is not worth it, by a 10-point margin.”

Perhaps the biggest point:

The shift was almost entirely due to growing skepticism among Americans without four-year degrees—those who never enrolled in college, who took only some classes or who earned a two-year degree. Four years ago, that group used to split almost evenly on the question of whether college was worth the cost. Now, skeptics outnumber believers by a double-digit margin.

Conversely, opinion among college graduates is almost identical to that of four years ago, with 63% saying college is worth the cost versus 31% who say it isn’t.

The linked article combines these, adds party affiliation, and geographical location, and finds this disturbing segmentation:

Democrats, urban residents and Americans who consider themselves middle- and upper-class generally believe college is worth it; Republicans, rural residents and people who identify themselves as poor or working-class Americans don’t.

That’s a pretty stark divide.  Is this a blip driven by recent politics and media foci, or the sign of an emerging separation within American culture and society?

*This is weirdly misread in the article’s text, as “almost a mirror image from four years earlier.”

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2 Responses to Are American attitudes towards higher education segmenting?

  1. Pingback: Peak higher education, 4 years later | Bryan Alexander

  2. Questions I have. Are those without 4-year degrees rationalizing their own experience/decision? Or are they doing just fine and are therefore scoffing at those who “wasted” the time and money to get a 4-year degree? Or is it sour grapes?

    My own son, a male millennial without a college degree, is very skeptical, and also skeptical that good jobs for non-educated people exist. He would like, I think, a solid job, but they all suck and are marginal. And he has us as a safety net right now so he can reject them (not all are so lucky). He would like to see systemic change on this front. For employers to realize that a college degree isn’t necessarily an indication of intelligence or skills and that many of the jobs they’re offering don’t really require it. He would also like to see more well-paying jobs for those without degrees that aren’t a) expendable or b) downright dangerous. He also falls into the universal basic income crowd where taking a less well-paying job because you happen to like the work allows you to live a decent life.

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