Public Confidence In Higher Education Crashes, New Poll Finds

Slide in confidence in colleges & universities has been on a downward trend since 2015

New survey data shows that Americans’ confidence in higher education is continuing to fall.

Only 17 percent of U.S. adults have a “great deal” of confidence in higher education, compared to 2015 when 28 percent agreed, according to the Gallup poll on confidence in U.S. institutions.

Just 19 percent say they have “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education — a 10-point drop from 2015 when 29 percent said the same.

Additionally, in 2015, only nine percent of Americans said they had “very little” confidence in higher education, while nearly a quarter (22 percent) now say the same.

“In 2015, majorities of Americans in all key subgroups expressed confidence in higher education, with one exception — independents (48 percent). By 2018, though, confidence had fallen across all groups, with the largest drop, 17 percentage points, among Republicans,” according to Gallup.

“In the latest measure, confidence once again fell across the board, but Republicans’ sank the most 20 points to 19 percent, the lowest of any group,” Gallup added. “Even though all subgroups show declining confidence in higher education, significant gaps persist among political, educational, gender and age subgroups. Notably, the only key subgroup with majority-level confidence in higher education is Democrats (59 percent).”

Gallup noted a growing divide between Republicans and Democrats in their views on higher education, citing previous polling that found Democrats expressing concern over the cost of attending colleges and universities, with Republicans saying they are more concerned about politics in higher education.

Democrats were more likely to say U.S. colleges are too expensive, are not well-run, have deteriorating quality, or that graduates are unable to find jobs as reasons their confidence in those institutions has dropped.

Republicans were more likely to cite a belief that colleges are too liberal and political, universities don’t allow students to think for themselves, colleges push their own agenda, and students are poorly educated as reasons for their drop in confidence.

Though confidence in college and universities continues to slide, higher education still ranks fourth in confidence among the 17 institutions Gallup measured.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly claimed 20 percent — not 29 percent — of adults had “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education in 2015. 

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