A new national survey explores attitudes toward higher education
AFRICAN AMERICAN AND Hispanic parents value higher education even more than their
white counterparts, although their children participate in it less, a new national
survey has found.
When parents of high school students were asked what is most vital for a successful
life, 65 percent of Hispanics, and 47 percent of African Americans, said a college
education was the most important factor, while only 33 percent of white parents agreed.
White parents placed almost equal importance on "knowing how to get along with
people" and "a good work ethic."
Two-thirds of white parents surveyed said there still are ways to succeed in American
life without a college education, but only 54 percent of African American parents,
and 34 percent of Hispanics, agreed with that statement.
Despite this strong belief in the importance of higher education, Hispanics and African
Americans attend colleges and universities in much smaller numbers than whites.
Forty-one percent of whites between the ages of 18 and 24 enroll in some kind of
postsecondary education, but only 30 percent of African Americans of the same age,
and 22 percent of Hispanics, join them, according to U.S. Census figures.
Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda, which conducted the survey, warned
that this disparity posed a potential problem for American higher education. "The
rising aspirations of these minority groups are closely intertwined with their hopes
of educating the next generation," Wadsworth said. "If an economic downturn
makes access to higher education more difficult for minority groups, then the dashed
hopes that follow could be especially disheartening."
Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that regularly reports
on public attitudes about major policy issues. This survey was sponsored by the National
Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, of San Jose, California, and the Institute
for Research in Higher Education, a research center at the University of Pennsylvania.
The survey included telephone interviews with 1,015 members of the general public,
as well as an "oversample" of more than 600 African American, Hispanic
and white parents of high school students.
The report was written by John Immerwahr, who is a senior research fellow at Public
Agenda and associate vice president for academic affairs at Villanova University.
It is available through the Public Agenda Web site: http://www.publicagenda.org.
"In our conversations and surveys with Americans from all parts of the country,
it has become clear that in today's booming high-tech economy, a college education
has replaced the high school diploma as the gateway to the middle class," Immerwahr
Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed said that a college education is more important
now than it was ten years ago, and 87 percent said a college education was as important
as a high school diploma used to be.
"Today you don't even question whether you are going to college," said
a New Jersey woman who participated in one of eight focus groups that helped to shape
the survey questions. "It's the sign of the times. When I was growing up, what
was important was to make the home front, with marriage and children, but today it
If anything, minority parents feel even more strongly about the need for education
beyond high school.
"Why is college important?" asked an African American woman attending a
Chicago focus group. "It is the way that society is set up. We are the underdog
already, so if you don't have a college education, it is another thing against you."
At a focus group in El Paso, a Hispanic father of a high school student said, "Every
time I spoke to [my kids] after they were babies, I said, ‘After you finish college,
then you can start thinking about what you want to do.' I think it served me well.
It did open doors."
Other key findings of the survey include:
-- William Trombley
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