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Center News

August 11, 2000


San Jose and New York - Californians believe that higher education is vitally important for success in today's high-paced world, according to a public opinion survey focusing on the views of Californians about education and training beyond high school.

"There is a national consensus that higher education is important and California is very much a part of it," said Patrick Callan, President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "People see that education beyond high school is crucial for enabling people to succeed today."

The survey, prepared by Public Agenda and released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, finds that an overwhelming majority of Californians (85%) believes that "a college degree has become as important as a high school diploma used to be." And 81% think that there cannot be too many people with education and training beyond high school.

"The attitudes of Californians regarding higher education are strikingly similar to the views of the nation as a whole," writes John Immerwahr, author of the report and Senior Research Fellow at Public Agenda. "Access to higher education has become equivalent to access to the American dream."

In terms of which groups face the greatest hardships in attending college, Californians believe that low-income students face greater difficulty than middle-class students, older students, or students from minority ethnic groups. According to the report, only 1 in 10 Californians believe that students from middle-class families have less opportunity than others to get a college education. In comparison, almost half (47%) believe that students from low-income families have less opportunity than others to get a college education.

Changes in Attitudes over Time

Like Americans generally, Californians view the benefits of a college education as more than a degree. This belief has shifted significantly since 1993, when Californians were much more likely to emphasize a college degree as a piece of paper rather than as a symbol of real learning.

In the current survey, a majority of Californians (58%) agreed that college graduates get higher salaries because having a college degree means that the person has skills and accomplishments, as opposed to 37% who thought that employers just get impressed by a degree. In a 1993 survey, on the other hand, 62% of Californians agreed that "too many employers hire college graduates for jobs that could be done as well or better by people without a college degree," and 55% expressed concern that too many people were going to college.

Some Differences in Attitudes Compared to the Nation as a Whole

Although in large part California's attitudes about higher education are very similar to the views nationwide, there are several areas where Californians stand apart, according to the report.

In general, Californians are more positive than the rest of the nation about the importance of community colleges. Sixty-three percent of Californians think that students who are under-prepared for college should begin their college studies at a community college, compared to 53% who think so nationwide. In focus groups, even many parents who expect their children to graduate eventually from a four-year college saw community college as the first step.

Funding for the survey and report, called Great Expectations: How Californians View Higher Education, was provided by The James Irvine Foundation. The findings are based on a telephone survey of 503 randomly selected adults who reside in California. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 4 percentage points.

This report complements a broader national telephone survey of 1,015 adults, the findings of which were released in May in Great Expectations: How the Public and Parents-White, African American and Hispanic-View Higher Education.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent, nonpartisan organization, promotes public policies that enhance Americans' opportunities for education and training beyond high school. Public Agenda is an independent, nonpartisan organization that regularly reports on public attitudes about major policy issues.

The national and California findings are available at www.highereducation.org, with supplemental information available at www.publicagenda.org. Earlier surveys about Californian's attitudes about higher education-The Closing Gateway (1993) and Enduring Values, Changing Concerns (1997)-are available at www.policycenter.org.


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