Survey: Americans Value Higher Education, But See Room for Change

By Catherine Groux
Posted February 07, 2013 11:00 AM

Most Americans value higher education, but feel the system could be ameliorated.
Most Americans value higher education, but feel the system could be ameliorated.

In light of the sluggish economy, many Americans have discovered the value of earning a bachelor's degree - whether they've earned one or not. The recession affected a majority of Americans, but those who graduated from college found it much easier to weather the economic storm, while those who had only a high school diploma noticed that jobs were harder to come by and salaries were lower.

Given this fact, it is perhaps unsurprising that most Americans see the value in higher education and have given serious thought to going back to school and earning a bachelor's degree. However, the public is still largely unsatisfied with the nation's higher education system, and would like to see it change to make college more affordable and accessible for the average American.

The Importance of Earning a Bachelor's Degree

A new survey by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation shows that while only about one-third of Americans have a bachelor's degree, 97% consider higher education either somewhat or very important. Specifically, individuals value college for the financial and professional stability it can bring degree holders. Approximately 71% said that earning a credential beyond a high school diploma is very important to a person's future financial security, while 67% said that going to college is crucial for getting a good job.

For this reason, many Americans who only hold a high school diploma have given serious thought to going back to school. The survey shows that in the past 12 months, 41% of adults have thought about enrolling in college to earn a degree or certificate.

The Desire for Change

Although a vast majority of Americans see the value in earning a college degree, many are unsatisfied with the current higher education system, the survey shows. Currently, one of the many problems adults have is that college is too expensive and they do not feel they have enough sources to lean on when it comes to securing financial aid. Approximately 68% of Americans said companies should give more college tuition assistance to employees, while 67% said schools should reduce tuition and fees. Currently, only 26% of respondents said they believe the cost of higher education is affordable for the average American.

Along with lower prices, survey respondents said they also want to see a new system of credentials that focuses on learning outcomes and competencies rather than how much time students spend in the classroom. Approximately 87% of adults said they think students should receive credit for knowledge and skills obtained outside of the classroom, while 75% said they would be more likely to enroll in a postsecondary program if they would be evaluated on and receive credit for what they already know.

"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."

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