Is community college reaching a new level of confidence?

Americans are profoundly more confident in two-year institutions than their four-year counterparts, a pair of reports by Gallup and Lumina Foundation shows. Can you guess the three main reasons?

Americans’ perspective on higher education is growing increasingly polarized with a higher rate showing “very little” to no confidence in the sector, an annual survey by Gallup and Lumina Foundation shows. Thirty-six percent of Americans expressed a “great deal” or “a lot” of trust in the sector, stabilizing a 20% decline over the last nine years.

However, fewer expressed mixed views this year: Americans don’t believe in higher education (32%) at nearly the same rate as they do.

Nearly a third (30%) of Americans who expressed the most confidence in higher education believe it’s headed in the wrong direction; the rate increases to 81% for those with “some” confidence. Overall, 68% for overall respondents don’t believe it’s on the right path.

Republicans were the most cynical about the value of higher education due to its perceived political agenda and what they consider a lack of focus. However, Democrats and independents showed a decreased valuation as well, citing its costs.

“The drop in confidence extends beyond purely political motives to questions about the relevance to the workforce of what students are being taught and the high cost of college,” the report reads. “To the extent these views are held by parents and young adults, it could lead to drops in college applications and enrollment.”

Lumina Foundation/Gallup

While public perception of higher education appears to grow increasingly stark, a separate report by Gallup and Lumina released the same day shows that Americans are profoundly more confident in community college than four-year institutions. For example, 48% were confident by “a great deal” or “quite a lot” in community college, while only 33% believed so for the latter.

Respondents agreed on the benefits of community college at a higher rate than bachelor’s degree-granting institutions across seven categories. The largest differences centered on affordability, net worth and teaching useful skills.

Recent reports on enrollment and success also point to students’ growing confidence in community college:

  • Retention: First-year community college students experienced the highest 10-year percentage point increase in retention rates compared to all other college sectors.
  • Spring enrollment: Two-year college freshmen enrollment grew by 6.2% this past semester, which is more than four-year public, private and for-profit institutions.
  • Adult learners: The number of stopped-out students returning to college increased by 9.1% over last year. Of the roughly 62% of learners who returned to higher education but at a different institution, the majority chose to enroll at a community college.

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Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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