AAC&U News: May 2015
Facts & Figures

Postsecondary Education: Aspirations and Barriers

The 2014 Gallup-Lumina Foundation Study of the American Public’s Opinions on Higher Education

Most Americans think attaining a degree or certificate beyond high school is very important—and yet very few think that this goal is affordable.  That’s one of the central messages of a report on American adults’ perceptions of college, just released by Gallup and Lumina Foundation. Based on phone interviews conducted in late 2014, the report found that most Americans believe higher education is crucial for those who wish to land good jobs and improve their lives, but they also believe that most college graduates aren’t well prepared for the work place. 

The report also found that beliefs about higher education vary across different racial groups, with black and Hispanic Americans being more likely to believe it is important to increase the number of college graduates than white Americans are. Blacks and Hispanics also report taking greater steps to pursue postsecondary degrees even as these groups lag behind whites in degree attainment. Full results and methodology are available online.

The Value and Availability of College

  • Nearly all Americans—96 percent—believe it is “somewhat” or “very important” to have a degree or certificate beyond high school, and 93 percent believe this will be just as important or even more important in the future.
  • Almost three-quarters of all Americans say a college degree leads to a better quality of life, and that percentage is even higher for black Americans (80 percent) and Hispanics (83 percent).
  • While 61 percent of Americans say higher education is “available” to anyone who needs it, only 21 percent think higher education is affordable for everyone.

Perceptions of College Learning Environments

  • While more than half of Americans (51 percent) report they frequently think of college as four-year, residential institutions, other types of institutions are gaining attention, too.
  • Forty-one percent of Americans also frequently think of college as a place where students earn professional certificates for the workplace, and 31 percent think of college as a place where students earn a two-year associate’s degree.
  • Twenty percent of Americans frequently think of college as an online learning environment. Furthermore, 17 percent strongly agree that online colleges and universities offer high-quality education—up from 14 percent in 2013 and 10 percent in 2011.

College and the Workforce

  • Three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) agree or strongly agree that employers value the skills and knowledge obtained through college.
  • However, only 13 percent of Americans strongly agree that college graduates are well prepared for success in the workplace, and the percentage with an associate’s degree or higher who strongly agree is even lower—just 6 percent.
  • Eighty percent of Americans think colleges and universities need to change in order to better prepare students, but only 42 percent think that colleges and universities are already working to do so.


Did You Know?

  • Ninety-six percent of Americans believe it is important to have a postsecondary degree or credential.
  • Only 21 percent of Americans think college is affordable to everyone.
  • Eighty percent of Americans think colleges and universities need to change to better serve students.

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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