Why survey finds higher ed headed in wrong direction

50% of graduates said they attended college to improve job prospects, not follow an academic passion
By: | July 21, 2020
67% of respondents to a think tank's survey said that colleges and universities put their own interests ahead of students. Only 9% said schools prioritize students' interests. (GettyImages/Ungureanu Vadim/EyeEm)67% of respondents to a think tank's survey said that colleges and universities put their own interests ahead of students. Only 9% said schools prioritize students' interests. (GettyImages/Ungureanu Vadim/EyeEm)

Americans believe colleges and universities are headed in the wrong direction but not because of the recent coronavirus disruptions, according to a survey by Populace, a think tank focused on access and opportunity.

Some 52% of the more than 2,000 students, graduates and parents said higher education is misguided, while only 33% felt a degree was needed to join the middle class, the survey found.

The goal of the survey was “to ensure the public has a voice in what higher education evolves to look like, offer, become,” the authors of the report wrote.

One of the leading causes for the discontent was a belief, cited by 67% of respondents, that colleges and universities put their own interests ahead of students’ needs. Only 9% of those surveyed said schools prioritize students’ interests.


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As far as enrollment, 50% of the college graduates surveyed said their primary reason for attending college was to improve their job prospects.

Only 15% said they enrolled to learn more about an academic subject.

However, only 27% said a degree was needed to achieve the American dream.

Among Americans who chose not to enroll in college, 40% said they didn’t go because they couldn’t afford it. However, only a quarter of the respondents supported free college as a way of reforming higher education.

Respondents were also evenly split on the fairness of using the SAT or ACT test for college acceptance.

Meanwhile, 62% of respondents said their opinions of colleges and universities had not been changed by higher ed’s response to the coronavirus. Still, 42% believe the quality of the college experience decline when campuses reopen for the fall semester.


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