Although the public still has positive feelings about
higher education, with 51% giving four-year colleges
a grade of good or excellent (as compared to only 37%
who give secondary schools similar grades), there are
some signs of fractures in the public’s long love affair
with colleges and universities.
In focus groups conducted for this project, we
heard, for the first time, a number of people saying
that colleges and universities are “just like a business”
—more concerned with money than with education
(see Figure 13).
As it turns out, this is a perception held by more
than half of Americans. The percentage of Americans
who say that their state’s higher education system
should be overhauled has increased in the last 10 years.
At the time of our survey, that belief had not reached
the peak level seen during the recession years
of the early 1990s, but with all of the recent talk
of recession in early 2008, the number may have
climbed even higher (see Figure 14).
The public also has little sympathy for
the difficulties that colleges face. Amajority believes
colleges could spend less money while still maintaining
quality (see Figure 15), and also believes that colleges
could take in more students without raising prices
or lowering quality (see Figure 16).
Preliminary interviews with legislators
and business leaders also reveal a growing impatience
both with rising prices and with a perceived lack
of flexibility and accountability in colleges and universities.