College & Workforce Readiness

Most Republicans Have Negative View of Higher Education, Poll Finds

By Catherine Gewertz — July 11, 2017 2 min read
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Republicans are becoming increasingly critical of the effect higher education is having on American life, with 58 percent saying colleges and universities exert a negative impact on the country, according to a study released Tuesday.

The findings by the Pew Research Center show a sharp divide in attitude toward higher education between Republicans and Democrats. While 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said colleges and universities have a negative impact on “the way things are going in the country,” 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said higher education exerts a positive impact on the country.

The national telephone survey of 2,504 adults, conducted last month by the Pew Research Center, also explored partisan divides on other societal institutions, including religious organizations, financial institutions and labor unions. The national news media and higher education were the two that came in for the harshest assessment.

The report doesn’t offer insight into why Republicans’ views of higher education have grown more negative. But doubts about the value of college have grown in the wake of the Great Recession, as many college graduates struggled to find work, and the cost of college—and student debt levels—soared. Bachelor’s degrees still command higher wages than most other postsecondary credentials, but policymakers are increasingly hailing career-focused education as a way to equip young people with skills that can lead to industry credentials and good jobs.

The findings mark a sharp decline in Republicans’ view of higher education. Only two years ago, Pew found that 54 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents had a positive view of colleges’ and universities’ impact on American life. Only 37 percent deemed them a negative influence.

Democrats’ views of higher education have not shown a similar change in the past two years.

Conservative Republicans are a particular force behind the negative views of colleges and universities. Sixty-five percent of conservative Republicans told Pew that higher education has a negative impact, while only 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans held that view.

Democrats show less of a schism on the issue. Seventy-nine percent of liberal Democrats and 67 percent of conservative and moderate Democrats view higher education’s impact on American life as positive.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.