While Americans continue to believe in the all-encompassing value of higher education, the share that says colleges and universities have a positive effect “on how things are done in this country today” has declined by 14 percentage points since 2020, according to a new survey from New America.

Varying Degrees 2022, the higher education think tank’s sixth annual survey, reflects the unease and doubt aroused by nearly three years of the global COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention the geopolitical instability and a volatile economy. Only 55% of respondents agreed that higher education institutions had a positive impact on the country (42% said it was negative), compared to 58% last year and 69% at the start of 2020, just before the start of the pandemic.

“We were actually very nervous to see what the numbers would look like,” said Sophie Nguyen, senior policy analyst for New America’s education policy program and co-author of the report. “Especially since the pandemic, there’s just been a lot of uncertainty that could affect Americans’ views on all social issues, not just higher education.”

But in many ways, she said, the trends have remained fairly stable, at least on the questions asked year after year about the value of higher education, who should fund it, and who should be held accountable if it does. of failure.

“The results of this year’s survey show that while the future remains uncertain and positive feelings about higher education have waned somewhat, Americans still value higher education as a whole and believe it will help their children and the nation achieve economic success,” reads the preface to the report. “For this reason, they believe that post-high school opportunities should be well funded by state and federal governments, and that schools that receive federal funds should be held accountable.”

About three-quarters of respondents agreed that post-secondary education provides a good return on investment, up from 80% in 2020. Still, partisan divides have widened, with 85% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans seeing it as a good investment, compared to 78 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans two years ago.

Political differences were even more marked over who should fund higher education. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats but only 36% of Republicans agreed that the government should pay for students to go to college “because it’s good for society.” Conversely, 63% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats agreed that students should be financially responsible for their education “because they personally benefit from it.”

When it comes to the types of institutions that justify the cost, 81% of respondents said public community colleges are worth it, compared to 67% for public four-year institutions and minority-serving institutions, 53% for private non-profit organizations and 41% for for-profit. Democrats and Republicans were generally in agreement on the issue, except when it came to MSIs, which 80% of Democrats, but only 54% of Republicans, were worth the cost.

Respondents agreed overwhelmingly (93%) that colleges and universities should provide data on key performance indicators, such as graduation or employment rates, to the public and that they should lose the access to government funding if they miss their mark. More than three-quarters said institutions should lose funding for low graduation rates, and 70% said they should be turned away if they have a high ratio of student debt to income.

“The ‘Varying Degrees’ report is important because it helps pinpoint public perceptions of the value of a post-secondary education – something we all need to take our pulse on as we continue to live and learn during a pandemic. “, said Michael Itzkowitz, senior researcher at the think tank Third Way, wrote in an email. “What’s interesting is that a lot of perceptions match reality. of Americans view higher education as a good investment. In my work, I can also see many schools offering a quick economic return to students. However, and perhaps reflecting the 24 percent who consider higher education higher as a losing proposition, there are too many schools that continually perform poorly for the majority of students who enroll.The Varying Degrees report shows that the p Most Americans want to hold institutions accountable for poor outcomes, and I don’t disagree.

The report, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, surveyed 1,157 Americans ages 18 and older in April and May this year.

Despite widespread Zoom fatigue, opinions on online education have improved significantly, survey finds: 8% of respondents and 17% of current students – said they thought the quality of online teaching was better than in-person teaching, compared to 3% who felt this way in 2021. And 47% agreed the quality was equivalent to that of in-person instruction, up from 34% last year.

That’s not necessarily good news, Nguyen said.

“When we look at it from a liability perspective, it’s actually a data point that’s more concerning than positive,” she said. “Historically, for-profit colleges, which primarily provide online education, are the ones that engage in predatory recruitment that has misled students and produced poorer outcomes.”

If students become too familiar with online learning, she said, it could make it easier for for-profit institutions to take advantage of it.

Regardless of their opinion of the quality of online education, 80% of respondents agreed that it should cost less than in-person education.

In light of the increase in voluntary test admissions, the “Variing Degrees” survey has added several questions to this year’s survey of standardized tests. Only 6% of respondents agreed that SAT/ACT test scores should be required and used as a key indicator of student readiness; 38% said they should be mandatory and used in combination with grades and other metrics, and 42% said they should be optional and used as one of many metrics. Eleven percent said testing should not be allowed.

But the age disparity among respondents was striking: While 60% of Gen Z respondents favored voluntary testing policies, only 35% of baby boomers did. And while a majority of baby boomers (53%) supported testing mandates, less than a quarter of Zoomers did.

Nguyen, who also studies student success, said younger generations are much less likely than older generations to feel they have adequate support services at college, ranging from financial aid to education. career guidance to support for basic needs.

“A majority of Americans think colleges and universities provide enough support in most of these areas,” she said. “But when you look at the responses from Gen Z and Millennials, especially for Gen Z, it’s just a lot lower. And that’s concerning because they’re the ones experiencing it right now. moment, and if they say they don’t feel colleges and universities are providing enough support in those areas, that’s telling. It shows that we need to look more at the data to see what’s actually happening in the field and why it is.