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College & Workforce Readiness

Poll Shows the Public Sees College as Key to Getting Jobs

By Caralee J. Adams — August 19, 2011 3 min read
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A solid 69 percent of Americans say that having a college degree is “essential” for getting a good job in this county, a new study released by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation for Education yesterday revealed. And 95 percent of respondents think it’s very or somewhat important for financial security.

(The Lumina Foundation underwrites coverage of the alignment between K-12 schools and postsecondary education in Education Week.)

This public support for the importance of higher education affirms the efforts of many policymakers and organizations to boost college going among Americans.

“The perception matches reality. The public believes that to get a good job you need some form of postsecondary education and they are right,” said Jamie Merisotis, Lumina Foundation president and chief executive officer at a briefing Thursday in Washington.

However, when asked if college grads were well prepared for success in the workforce, only 39 percent of the public strongly agreed and most people were neutral, with another one-fifth disagreeing.

This disconnect between valuing degrees and feeling that graduates were prepared is a wake-up call to colleges to reign in costs and examine the relevance of curriculum, experts said. “If only half of the public is fully sold that quality of higher education will match the needs in the workforce, the challenge to higher education is to reinvent and improve outcomes,” said Merisotis. “It has to be about learning. That’s what drives quality of education.”

The main reason students get more education beyond high school is to earn more money, 58 percent of the public polled responded. Another 33 percent felt the main reason was to get a new job. Just 5 percent said the prime driver was to become a more well-rounded person and 3 percent said it was to learn more about the world.

In the current economic downturn when nine in 10 Americans say it is a bad time to get a quality job, about half (47 percent) agree that people who have a college degree have a good chance of finding a quality job and 10 percent disagree.

The study was released in conjunction with the 43rd Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll about public attitudes toward the public schools. Here, the big news was how Americans rate their own public school teachers more highly than ever, yet have a low opinion of the nation’s schools overall. When assessing schools in their community, 69 percent of the public give public school teachers and A or B, compared to 50 percent in 1984. A higher percentage of respondents—79 percent—give high marks to the schools where their oldest children attend, up from 77 percent last year.

Yet, only 17 percent of Americans give the nation’s schools as a whole an A or B. This is consistent with last year’s findings of 18 percent and 19 percent the year before.

Why the difference in perception? “Parents know people in their local schools,” says Willian J. Bushaw, executive director of PDK International. They are less familiar with the nation’s schools and base their opinion on what they hear. And that news is often negative, as 68 percent said they were more likely to hear bad stories in the news media about teachers than good ones (29 percent), the poll showed.

Americans feel that funding is the biggest problem facing schools, followed by overcrowding. They gave teachers and principals high marks for performance, but were less impressed with governors, school boards and teacher unions. Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans believe teacher unions hurt public education, the new Gallup poll revealed. Yet, 52 percent say they side with teacher unions in conflicts with governors over collective bargaining.

The annual PDK/Gallup poll and the Lumina/Gallup study were based on surveys of about 1,000 American adults over 18 in June and May of 2011.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.