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Poll Suggests Americans are Losing Faith in Higher Education

Poll Suggests Americans are Losing Faith in Higher Education

A survey of campus CEOs suggests the increasing cost of tuition combined with nonstop student activism and the perception of liberal bias is contributing to a rising distrust in America’s colleges and universities.

According to a survey conducted by Insider Higher Ed, over 50% of university presidents agree that the 2016 elections exposed the fact that academia is “disconnected from much of American society.” 

This negative opinion of higher education in America reflects the “reality of left-wing bias disconnected from American society,” says Cornell Law School Professor William Jacobson. “Particularly in the humanities and social sciences, many faculty view political activism and indoctrination as a core part of their academic mission. While they may have the academic freedom to do so, there is a price to pay for the higher educational system.” 

Over 80% of survey respondents cited the perception of liberal bias on campuses as one of the main factors responsible for the erosion of faith in higher education. This perception leads people to assume conservative views are not tolerated on most campuses – and that assumption has a major impact on how conservatives view higher education. 

Of the 618 university presidents surveyed, 80% expressed concern for Republicans’ increasing skepticism (but only 12% said Republicans’ doubts are justified). Other factors contributing to the negative perception of higher education include student debt, concerns about affordability, and whether college actually prepares students for careers. 

Again, these concerns may have more to do with perception than reality. 

A majority of university presidents said the media’s portrayal of student debt has led “many prospective students and parents to think of college as less affordable than it is, taking into account student aid.” 

The poll also found 69% of campus CEOs believe President Trump’s “rhetoric” is making it more difficult for schools to recruit students from other countries.

When it comes to race, about 50% of campus CEOs said the media’s attention to activism on racial issues has convinced Americans that institutions are “less welcoming” of students from diverse backgrounds than is actually the case. 

Most college presidents had a positive view of race relations on their own campuses, with 80% describing relations as “excellent” or “good” and only 1% describing them as “poor.”

When asked about race relations on American campuses in general, however, 20% said “excellent” or “good” and 14% said they were “poor.”

University leaders also expressed concern regarding the increasing number of schools that are merging or shutting down. About one third believe 10 or more schools will close within the year and 13% said their own school could close or merge by 2023.

Fifty-seven respondents said their own campus will be “financially stable” for the next decade. 

The results of this survey mirror concerns exposed by a 2017 Pew Research Center study in which 58% of Republicans said colleges had a negative effect on the way things are going in the nation. 

Compare this to 2010, when a similar study showed just 32% of Republicans thought higher education had a negative effect on society. 

Democrats’ opinion of higher education is on a reverse trend, with 65% expressing a high regard for higher education in 2010 and 77% in 2017.

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