Poll: Most Americans Worried About Higher Education

(CN) – A majority of Americans feel that higher education is in a downward spiral, the Pew Research Center reported Thursday, but Republicans and Democrats disagree on why.

In a survey of more than 4,500 Americans between June 19 and July 2, Pew researchers found that 61 percent said higher education is going in the “wrong direction,” and 38 percent felt the opposite.

Stratified by partisan affiliations, 73 percent of Republican respondents felt negatively about higher education, while a 52-percent majority of Democratic respondents also reported negative views about colleges and universities across the country.

However, respondents differed more decisively along party lines when asked for the reasons behind their majority distaste for higher education.

Republicans’ primary grievance against colleges and universities was that “professors are bringing their political and social views into the classroom,” with 79 percent of right-wing respondents agreeing with that statement.

Inversely, only 17 percent of Democratic respondents felt that professors’ personal views affected the quality of colleges and universities.

Similarly, only 31 percent of Democrats said there was “too much concern about protecting students from views they might find offensive,” whereas 75 percent of Republicans felt that was relevant to the perceived decline of higher education.

Republican disdain for opinion policing on college campuses likely stems from grievances aired by conservative commentators who have been run off of various campuses by protesters, such as Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right,” and former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

Complaints about political correctness and liberal professors on campus have been a constant in conservative discussions about higher education, which is reflected in the Pew survey data.

However, researchers also found that Democrats generally sided with free speech on campus. Ninety-one percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats felt that “it’s more important to allow people to speak freely” than to try and curtail offensive views on campus.

Both Republicans and Democrats felt that tuition rates were too high at 77 percent and 92 percent, respectively.

Majorities from both major parties also felt that “students are not getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace” from their college educations, with 73 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats agreeing with that statement.

Republicans overall polled in the 70s for each category of potential problems with college, whereas Democrats were more varied in their grievances against higher education.

Democrats were overall more likely to cite tuition and quality of education as problematic, rather than lament political and cultural clashes on campus.

“Many respondents also volunteered that there are other major reasons, besides the four offered in the survey,” according to the Pew study. “These include students not being taught to think for themselves, affirmative action and lack of adequate funding.”

Pew also stratified Republican and Democratic respondents by age, and the data suggests that older Republicans were more concerned with cultural and political grievances than the cost and quality of a college degree. Ninety-six percent of Republicans over 65 cited professors’ personal views as their primary reason for viewing colleges negatively.

On the other hand, Republicans under 49 primarily cited tuition costs as their grievance with higher education, at 78 percent for those between 18 and 34 and 82 percent for those between 35 and 49.

Among Democrats, Pew researchers found data similar to Republicans when grouped by age – older Democrats worry about professors’ personal views, whereas younger Democrats worry more about the cost and quality of the education they expect to receive.

Overall, most Americans seem to agree that tuition rates are too high and that the usefulness of any given degree is in question, but partisan and generational gaps reveal a disparity between prioritizing functional necessities of higher education and the political and cultural battles being waged on campuses today.

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