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Democrats and Republicans differ in views about value of higher education

August 29, 2019

A growing number of Republicans have a negative view of higher education, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The survey found that, overall, half of all the adults in this country have a positive attitude toward higher education, down from 55 percent in 2017 and 63 percent in 2016. The number of adults with a negative view now stands at 38 percent, up from 36 percent in the 2017 Pew survey and 28 percent in 2016.

The increase in negative perceptions is due to a change in attitude among Republicans and independents who lean Republican. Of this group, 59 percent had a negative perception of higher education in 2019, up from 58 percent in 2017 and 37 percent in 2015.

The Pew report states that “there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction – even suspicion – among the public about the role colleges play in society, the way admissions decisions are made and the extent to which free speech is constrained on college campuses. And these views are increasingly linked to partisanship.”

A 2018 Gallup found similar results, as 48 percent of the adults surveyed expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education. This was down from 57 percent in a similar Gallup poll in 2015. The drop was also fueled by a change in the attitude of Republicans “whose confidence level has fallen by 17 percentage points, but Democrats and independents are also less confident now than they were three years ago.”

A 2018 Pew survey took a look at the reasons behind the differing views on higher education. The survey found that among Republicans who believe higher education is going in the wrong direction , 79 percent of those cited professors bringing their political or social views in to the classroom as a reason why (compared to 17 percent of Democrats), along with too much concern about protecting students from views they may find offensive (75 percent of Republicans cited this compared to 31 percent of Democrats).

Older Republicans are even more likely to have a negative view of higher education based on ideological factors. For example, 96 percent of Republicans 65 or older who have a negative perception of higher education said professors bringing their views into the classroom was a major reason for their negative outlook, according to Pew.

Republicans (77 percent) and Democrats (92 percent) do agree that tuition costs are too high.

The Pew study finds that higher education institutions face a host of challenges in the years to come, including tuition costs, preparing graduates for a changing and more technology-based work environment and the country’s changing demographics. “Ideological battles waged over the climate and culture on college campuses may make addressing these broader issues more difficult” the study concludes.

pew, higher ed