Press Release

Is College Worth It? AAC&U and the Bipartisan Policy Center Release New Research Brief on Public and Employer Perceptions

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) today released a new research brief comparing public and employer views about the return on investment in college education, finding that while nearly nine in ten employers believe a college degree is worth the personal investment, only a modest majority (60%) of all Americans agree.

Is College Worth the Time and the Money? It Depends on Whom You Ask analyzes results from a new public poll, conducted in partnership with Morning Consult, together with findings from AAC&U’s recent survey of employers.

The analysis found that while employers largely agree that a college degree is worth the investment of time and money, the views of the broader public vary dramatically by income level, educational attainment, and political affiliation. The public survey found that 73% of respondents with a bachelor’s degree and 74% with an annual income greater than $100K believe the investment in college education to be worthwhile, compared with just 51% of respondents who do not hold a college degree and 52% with an annual income below $50K. The survey also found that Democrats (70%) are much more likely than Republicans (53%) and Independents (52%) to believe that college is worth the investment.

“This report shows that majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all believe that a college degree is still worth it,” said Kevin Miller, BPC associate director for higher education. “But a substantial minority of Americans harbors doubts about the value of college. We must address concerns about access and affordability in higher education so that more Americans can get the college credentials that employers believe are essential.”

The brief examines the skills and attributes of a college education that are essential for career success. Despite a growing public and economic focus on STEM training, both employers and the broader public overwhelmingly favor an education that enables students to be well-rounded. When asked what skills are important for success in today’s workforce, employers and the broader public largely agree that critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication are top priorities.

“Obtaining a college degree is still the single most effective means for achieving economic mobility in the United States,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella. “But this report demonstrates that we have work to do in messaging how a college credential leads to career success, particularly for vulnerable populations of students who might already think a college education is out of reach. The road ahead demands that we build the most diverse and inclusive workforce possible.”

The new research brief also reveals generational divides in how college is viewed and its purpose in preparing students for career and life success. Fifty-two percent of Gen-Zers strongly support higher education institutions working to promote racial equity, compared with only 37% of baby boomers. Similarly, employers under forty were significantly more likely to value community-based and global learning experiences as meaningful preparation for the workplace when compared with employers fifty years of age or older.

The full research brief is available for download here.

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,000 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.

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About BPC

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that actively fosters bipartisanship by combining the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans. Our policy solutions are the product of informed deliberations by former elected and appointed officials, business and labor leaders, and academics and advocates who represent both ends of the political spectrum.

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