New Survey Shows Americans Still Disagree About College Based on Political Party

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A survey released by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) and the Bipartisan Policy Center on September 13 shows that Americans continue to have differing opinions on the value of a college education. As in previous polls, responses were largely split by demographics and political beliefs.

The survey included 2,200 respondents and was conducted in March 2021. Overall, a majority of participants agree that earning a college degree is worth the time and monetary investment. Nearly 70 percent of Democrats shared this sentiment, compared with 53 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of independents. Those with higher incomes were also more likely to agree, with three in four respondents earning $100,000 or more per year stating that a college degree is worth the time and investment. 

Political affiliation also appears to affect beliefs about the intended focus and outcomes of higher education. Nearly 40 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of independents said they agree that STEM exposure is very important for long-term career success, as opposed to 25 percent of Republicans. Nearly 60 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans said that a well-rounded education is important for success, compared with 67 percent of Democrats. 

While a majority, or 68 percent, of respondents agreed that critical thinking and problem-solving are very important for success in the workforce, answers still varied based on party lines. Seven in 10 Democrats took this stance compared with six in 10 Republicans.

Generational differences also slightly impacted responses, with just over 60 percent of Gen Z and millennial survey takers responding that higher education was “definitely” or “probably” worth pursuing. At 59 percent, baby boomers were slightly less supportive of a college education. Gen X survey participants were the least likely to see the value in a degree, with only 54 percent believing that college is worth the effort. 

The AACU also asked employers about their feelings on higher education. Nearly 90 percent agreed that a college degree is worth the time and investment for students. Nearly half responded that job-specific technical skills were important for long-term career success compared with 52 percent who said that a well-rounded education was more valuable for professional success.

This article was published in our October 2021 issue.