THE BLOOM IS OFF THE ROSE, AND THE PUBLIC IS JUMPY


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.

 


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