Public has positive opinion of community colleges

Source: "Varying Degrees 2017: New America's Annual Survey of Higher Education," New America, 2017.

Americans appear to have a strong positive view of community colleges in regards to their importance to the workforce, value and ability to prepare students for success, according to a new survey that New America will release today.

The inaugural higher education survey by the think tank — which polled 1,600 Americans ages 18 and older — gauged views on higher education and economic mobility, and even broke data down by race, generation and social economics, among other segments. Overall, Americans hold public two-year colleges in high regard: 83 percent of survey participants said community colleges contribute to a strong U.S. workforce; 82 percent said the colleges are worth the cost; and 80 percent stated that the colleges prepare people to be successful.

The rates in each of the categories surpassed those of private and public four-year universities and for-profit universities, according to the survey.  For example, only 40 percent of survey participants said for-profits were “worth the cost,” followed by 43 percent for private four-years.

Sixty-two percent of survey respondents also said that community colleges “always put their students first,” compared to 52 percent among public four-year universities, 53 percent among private four-years and 39 percent among for-profit universities.

In addition, the survey shows that community colleges have a broad appeal among all levels of income. For example, 68 percent of people in the survey earning less than $35,000 and those making $45,000 to $99,999 annually indicated that they see community colleges as “for people in my situation.” About 58 percent of people earning more than $100,000 felt the same.

Overall opinions

The New American report provides an interesting snapshot of how Americans perceive higher education in general. For example, slightly more than half of survey respondents felt there are plenty of well-paying jobs that do not require a college education — this despite a big push among educators, business leaders, and policy- and lawmakers emphasizing that most U.S. jobs will require at least some postsecondary education.

However, three-fourths of survey participants agreed that it’s easier to be successful with a degree than without one. This is especially true among Generation Z, who are just entering college or the workforce, noted a report accompanying the survey results.

Survey participants also indicated that colleges should do more to help students succeed. When asked whether it is the student’s sole responsibility to succeed in college, two-thirds of respondents said that colleges and universities should help. The report noted that baby boomers in particular were more likely than other generations to think so, perhaps because many baby boomers have children currently or recently in college.

New America will stream online the release of its report at 9:30 ET on May 11. Panel discussions will include community college students and Scott Ralls, president of Northern Virginia Community College.

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