LEADERS AGREE ON IMPORTANCE
OF HIGHER EDUCATION BUT DISAGREE ON HOW IT OPERATES, WHAT STUDENTS SHOULD BE TAUGHT,
AND HOW IT SHOULD BE PAID FOR
SAN JOSE, CA. -- Despite overwhelming agreement that higher education is important
to the well-being of American society, leaders differ on how well colleges and the
systems of higher education operate, what students need to be taught, or how it should
be paid for, according to a new study, Taking Responsibility: Leaders' Expectations of Higher Education,
released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
The study, conducted by Public Agenda for the National Center, also found that leaders
think that too many students are not sufficiently prepared academically to receive
a higher education. When presented with a list of 16 possible problems facing higher
education, the survey found 88 % of all respondents saying, "too many students
need remedial education."
"To date, the attention has centered on higher education's cost and the financial
burden many must assume in acquiring a degree," said Deborah Wadsworth, Public
Agenda's Executive Director. "Leaders, however, are focused on something that's
received little public notice: the lack of academic preparedness of students now
entering U.S. colleges and universities."
The survey, conducted by mail in the fall of 1998, is the first to compare leaders
from outside higher education with those from inside higher education. The report
surveyed 601 leaders, including college professors, college deans and administrators,
government officials, and business leaders.
All of the groups of leaders agreed that a strong higher education system is vitally
important to the well-being of American society. The survey respondents were nearly
unanimous in their view that "a strong higher education system is a key to the
continued economic growth and progress of the United States," with 97% of all
respondents saying that this sentiment is either very or somewhat close to their
In addition, the report found an overwhelming majority of leaders believe it is
essential to insure that higher education is accessible to every qualified and motivated
student. Approximately 92 % of respondents think that society should not allow the
price of a college education to prevent qualified and motivated students from attending
The leaders also agreed that the vast majority of qualified and motivated students
can get a college education if they want one and that lack of student motivation
and responsibility is a more important obstacle than lack of money.
Despite agreement from leaders that higher education is necessary and important
to society, the consensus falls apart when leaders begin to focus more heavily on
the details, according to the report. The survey found that tensions were greatest
between college faculty and business leaders, with college administrators and government
officials often falling somewhere in between.
The most extreme disagreement between business and academic leaders was about
how well colleges and systems of higher education operate. The report noted that
those who are outside the academy, especially business executives, think that higher
education should be held accountable to the same standards of cost and efficiency
that apply to other institutions. The survey found that 64 % of business leaders
think that higher education has a lot to learn from the private sector, while 77
% of professors take the opposite stand: that business methods have limited application
to higher education.
The survey also found that business leaders want professors to teach more, rely
more on technology, and focus more on research that is relevant to society. But,
by margins of approximately three to one, professors and administrators say that
colleges are teaching students what they need to know.
The study also found that business leaders want higher education to cut costs
and students to pay more before coming to government for more funding, while other
leaders see government as the first line of support. Nearly half of college professors,
college administrators, and government leaders surveyed believe that "since
society benefits from having a large number of college graduates, taxpayers should
pay more of the cost of a college education," compared to only 30 % of business
leaders who share this view.
"At a time when business and higher education need to work more closely together,
business leaders appear to be issuing a warning: if you want our continued and increased
support, some changes in the way you operate are needed," said John Immerwahr,
author of the report. Dr. Immerwahr is a senior research fellow at Public Agenda
where he has authored studies on a number of subjects including health care reform
and free speech. He is also an associate vice president of academic affairs at Villanova
Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research education organization
working to help citizens better understand complex issues and to help the nation's
leaders better understand the public's point of view. It was founded in 1975 by social
scientist and author Daniel Yankelovich and former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education was established
in 1998 to promote opportunity, affordability and quality in American higher education.
As an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, the National Center provides
action-oriented analyses of state and federal policies affecting education beyond
high school. The National Center receives financial support from a consortium of
national philanthropic organizations, and is not affiliated with any institution
of higher education or with any government agency.