Net good vs. bad investment: Americans are torn when it comes to higher education

Institutions may be using an age-old marketing ploy to mislead the public on its actual cost to make their programs appear more attractive.

Many Americans see the value in postsecondary education opportunities to boost their long-term financial well-being and the nation’s health. Still, they may hesitate to pursue a college education due to their perception of the high cost, a new survey suggests.

New America’s “Varying Degrees 2023” survey found that 70% of Americans believe the minimum education their close family members need to ensure financial security is a technical certificate; more than half of this cohort believe the minimum is a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, the majority of Americans believe that those who complete at least one undergraduate program promote a skilled workforce (88%), increase public tax revenue (81%) and increase civic engagement (75%).

While GOP lawmakers have been some of higher education’s fiercest critics, responses from those identifying as Republican were equally in favor of postsecondary opportunities, especially when it came to promoting financial wellness. In fact, fewer Republicans (25%) than Democrats (28%) believed a high school degree was sufficient.

As unified as Americans are in perceiving higher education’s value in improving one’s financial circumstances, they are also unified in their skepticism: 59% disagree that higher education is fine as it is. Their biggest gripe is with its affordability. More than half (53%) believe the average American cannot attain a higher education that is also affordable. Republicans reported this 10% more than Democrats, who were evenly split on its affordability.

More from UB: How much does a data breach hurt a college or university’s wallet?

How to address Americans’ perception of higher ed’s high costs

It’s no question that the pursuit of a postsecondary certificate or degree requires a shrewd commitment to financial planning. However, institutions—especially private ones—may be using an age-old marketing ploy to mislead the public about its actual cost in an effort to make their programs more attractive. The published sticker price at these institutions is nearly 20% more than it was in the 2006-07 academic year, yet the net price has fallen by 11% in five years once adjusted for inflation. Some institutions have begun implementing tuition resets to attract more students and to avoid intimidating potential applicants.

As for public institutions, 61% of all Americans believe the government should fund education because it’s good for society. However, this topic is heavily controversial on party lines; only 36% agreed with this statement.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

Most Popular