The Associated Press
A poll published on Thursday by the Wall Street Journal reveals that Americans are losing faith in college degrees.
According to the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, only 49 percent of Americans now believe that a four-year degree will lead to a good job and higher lifetime earnings. An overwhelming 47 percent claimed that they don’t believe a four-year degree will increase job and earnings prospects.
The findings reflect an increase in public skepticism of higher education from just four years ago and highlight a growing divide in opinion falling along gender, educational, regional and partisan lines. They also carry political implications for universities, already under public pressure to rein in their costs and adjust curricula after decades of sharp tuition increases.
Americans are increasingly concerned about the rising costs of an education. Student debt totals have reached $1.3 trillion, and millions have fallen behind on student-loan payments.
“I have friends from high school that are making half what I’m making, and they went and got a four-year degree or better, and they’re still $50-, $60-, $70,000 dollars in debt,” 32-year-old Jeff McKenna said, who passed on college in favor of trade school. He earns $50,000 a year as a mechanic. “There’s a huge need for skilled labor in his country.”
Universities around the country have been forced to become aware of the shift in public attitude towards the product they are offering. “We’re aware of the various polls that show this decline in confidence. It’s happening across a wide variety of institutions,” said Heather Swain, Vice President for Communications and Brand Strategy at Michigan State. “One of the things we’re doing is to try and make sure people understand the value of the university in different ways.”
University of Florida Provost Joseph Glover says that the shift in public confidence is “somewhat startling.” He said, “I think this is happening because there is a disconnect between the group of Americans who go to university and acquire an appreciation of life-long learning and another group people who never get access and never really understand the benefits a university brings to society at large.”