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March 17, 1998

AMERICANS IN RECORD NUMBERS BELIEVE THAT A COLLEGE EDUCATION IS THE TICKET TO THE MIDDLE CLASS

A new National Center launched today-committed to
opportunity, affordability, and quality in higher education.


SAN JOSE, CA. Seventy-five percent of Americans believe getting a college education is more important today than it was ten years ago, according to a survey commissioned by the newly established National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The report, The Price of Admission: The Growing Importance of Higher Education, was released today and is a follow-up to a 1993 survey of American attitudes toward higher education.

The survey, conducted by Public Agenda for the new National Center, also found that 89 percent of the American public believes that no qualified and motivated student should be denied a college education because of cost.

Public opposition to tuition increases is overwhelming. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents are convinced that students and families are currently doing all they can to pay for college. Americans are evenly divided-with little consensus-on who should do more to absorb additional costs-colleges and universities, taxpayers, or both.

These survey results were released today in connection with the establishment of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The National Center will bring a public interest perspective to such key higher education issues as opportunity, affordability and quality. The Center provides action-oriented analyses of state and federal policies affecting education beyond high school.

Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., of North Carolina announced the formation of the new center today. Gov. Hunt, who serves as founding chair of its board of directors, has led several national, bipartisan, education-reform projects, commissions and boards during his four terms as Governor of North Carolina.

"Americans believe higher education is more important than ever before," Gov. Hunt said. "They see it as the gateway to middle-class life and to the jobs that bring economic prosperity to states. But even in a good economic time with some slowdowns in tuition increases, there is still great concern that college will be out of reach of many who need it."

"America's children deserve to know that if they work hard there will be a place for them in college at a price that they and their families can afford," Gov. Hunt said. "The National Center was created to help deliver on that promise."

Working across party lines, Gov. Hunt has been a vocal national leader of K-12 improvement since the early 1980s. From 1982 to 1983, he chaired the Education Commission of the States, where he established the National Commission on Education and the Economy, an initiative to link education with workforce training and economic development. He was the chair for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards from its inception in 1987 to 1997. From 1994 to 1996, he chaired the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, and from 1997 to 1998 he chaired the National Education Goals Panel.

"While the new National Center is focused primarily on higher education issues," Gov. Hunt said, "there is a bigger picture, with much more at stake across the board. The K-12 system can benefit from what we are able to accomplish by preserving opportunity to higher education."

The national survey completed for the National Center was conducted by Public Agenda, a New York-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization. Seven hundred randomly selected Americans were interviewed by telephone; the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

The study found that while Americans are still concerned about access to higher education, public anxiety about students being shut out of college has diminished somewhat since the recession of the early 1990s, when the earlier survey about American attitudes toward higher education was conducted. In addition, Americans believe that students from low-income families comprise the group most likely to be shut out of college.

"Middle-class Americans themselves are not without concern about the affordability of higher education for their children," said Patrick Callan, President of the National Center. "However, they acknowledge that low-income groups face the greatest barriers to college opportunity."

"The findings also suggest that low income is more likely to be perceived as a problem for access to higher education than is race or ethnicity," Callan said.

An overwhelming percentage of Americans, 91 percent, believe that the benefit a student derives from college depends mostly on the amount of effort he or she puts into it, compared to 71 percent of respondents who thought so in 1993.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. It has received funding commitments of nine million dollars from national philanthropic organizations spearheaded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The National Center is not affiliated with any institution of higher education or government agency. Callan said it will focus particularly on the following questions:

  • Who should be served by higher education?
  • How should financial responsibility for college be shared among students and families, higher education institutions, and state and federal policy makers?
  • What are the most effective and productive ways for government to invest in higher education?
  • How can public policies encourage cost effectiveness in higher education?
  • How can state and federal policies stimulate and encourage increased quality?

Other survey findings include:

Today 43 percent of Americans think a college education is more difficult to obtain now than it was ten years ago. This number is down from 55 percent in 1993, when much of the country was mired in recession and when tuitions were rising sharply.

  • 86 percent believe that high school graduates should go on to college because in the long run they will have better job prospects, compared to 79 percent in 1993.
  • 85 percent think it is a fair or poor idea to raise college prices, up from 80 percent in 1993.
  • 87 percent expressed concern that students are incurring too much debt to meet college costs, compared to 81percent in 1993.
  • 77 percent agree that students appreciate the value of a college education more when they have some personal responsibility for paying for it.
  • When considering who should pay for increased costs and demands in higher education, 44 percent think that higher education should bear more of the burden through teaching more classes and cutting costs, and 46 percent believe that taxpayers and state government should absorb a greater share of the costs.

"What emerges from the research is a classic public policy dilemma," said John Immerwahr, the author of the report. "People don't want families and students to pay more. They don't like higher taxes. They see the goal ; they believe the goal, but aren't sure how to get there," he said. Immerwahr is senior research fellow of Public Agenda and Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs at Villanova University.


The Center has offices in San Jose, California, and in Washington, D.C.

Final copies of the report are available from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (408-271-2699 ). The complete survey questionnaire and results can be ordered from Public Agenda for $20.00 (212-686-6610 or www.publicagenda.org). The 1993 survey, The Closing Gateway, is available from the California Higher Education Policy Center's web site (www.policycenter.org).

Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research and education organization working to help citizens better understand complex policy issues and to help the nation's leaders better understand the public's point of view. It was founded in 1975 by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and social scientist and author Daniel Yankelovich.


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