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.
To begin with, overall faith in higher ed is declining. This is really just two data points (2013 and 2017) (or datasets) and it’s only one poll (of 1200 people). But it comes very close to this Pew study from July in finding growing divisions about post-secondary education within the United States.
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. “[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.”