Survey: Kudos to community colleges — again


An annual survey shows that Americans continue to think highly of community colleges — and more than half believe they are underfunded.

New America’s “Varying Degrees,” an annual survey about Americans’ perspectives on education after high school, finds that 85% of polled Americans think community colleges are worth the cost, compared to 66% of those who feel the same about public four-year colleges. More than 80% and nearly 70%, respectively, are comfortable supporting community colleges and public four-year colleges with tax dollars.

The opinions are similar to those found in last year’s survey, with about half agreeing that community colleges spend money wisely (51%) and run efficiently (55%). The numbers are much lower for other sectors. For example, 45% and 41%, respectively, think public four-year colleges run efficiently and spend money wisely. Those figures are the same for private nonprofit colleges, and much lower for for-profit colleges (35% and 29%, respectively).

The survey also gauges opinions based on political leanings. Republicans agree at lower rates than Democrats that colleges operate efficiently and spend their money wisely, even for community colleges. New America said it has noticed small differences in the data it has collected over five years. In 2019, for example, 59% of Republicans and 66% of Democrats believed that community colleges spend their money wisely. Now, only 49% of Republicans believe so, compared to 61% of Democrats. Similarly, in 2019, 57% of Republicans and 66% of Democrats agreed that community colleges run efficiently. Now, just half of Republicans (51%) agree, compared to 63% of Democrats.

Strong support for public funding

More than half (58%) of those surveyed think community colleges are underfunded by the state and federal government, compared to half or less than half who think other sectors of higher education are publicly underfunded. Three-fourths (74%) of Democrats think that community colleges are underfunded, compared with just half (49%) of Republicans.

Americans are largely OK with public funding of community colleges. Overall, 82% of Americans feel comfortable with their taxpayer dollars going to community colleges, compared to 69% for public four-year universities, 69% for minority-serving institutions and 53% for private nonprofit colleges. Just one-third (36%) indicated they are comfortable with public taxes supporting for-profit colleges and universities.

Democrats and Republicans both express support for their taxpayer dollars going toward public two- and four-year colleges and universities. Democrats are especially supportive, with 91% comfortable with their taxpayer dollars going to community colleges and 80% showing support for public four-year universities. A majority of Democrats (61%) also support their tax dollars going to private colleges and universities, up from 50% in 2022. Only 45% of Republicans agree.

Accountability, access and diversity

New America added a few more questions to its survey this year of 1,497 adults to gauge opinion on more timely higher education issues, including perspectives on higher education benefits to individuals and society at large, and whether college access and success are equitable. Nearly 90% of Americans surveyed believe that individuals with undergraduate credentials contribute to a skilled workforce. Four in five believe that these individuals also increase public tax revenues and support for local businesses. More than 70% think that individuals with undergraduate credentials increase civic engagement, contribute to lower unemployment rates and improve public health.

The survey also gauged opinions on accountability. Nearly 80% agree that programs should lose eligibility for federal financial aid if they consistently leave students deeply in debt relative to their earnings, or if they consistently fail to help graduates earn more than those who complete only a high school diploma. Democrats and Republicans support both at similarly high rates.

New America also looked at diversity, equity and access, especially given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action. Three-fourths of Americans believe that the state and federal government and colleges and universities should work to ensure that students from historically underrepresented backgrounds have access to higher education opportunities. Nine in ten Americans agree that colleges and universities should ensure adequate support services are provided to those students who need them, and 78% of Americans agree that all students benefit when colleges and universities reflect the racial diversity of the United States.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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