THE GROWING CONCERN ABOUT ACCESS


The increase in the public’s commitment to the necessity of a college education has been accompanied by growing fears that, for many qualified and motivated students, access to a higher education is slipping out of reach.

This feeling of being caught in a “squeeze play” between growing importance and declining opportunity is driven, in large part, by the public’s reaction to the escalating price tag for a college education. Nearly 60% of Americans believe, correctly, that higher education prices are growing as fast or faster than the prices for health care (see Figure 5).

People are aware that financial aid is available (mostly in the form of loans), but 78% agree, either strongly (60%) or somewhat (18%), that students have to borrow too much to pay for higher education (see Figure 6).

As a result of these cost increases, the percentage of people who believe that many qualified individuals do not have access to a higher education has also been rising steadily over the last decade, up from 45% in 1998 to 62% in 2007 (see Figure 7).

Indeed, this percentage is the highest we have seen, greater even than in the recession years of the early 1990s. It is important to point out that this high-water mark on college anxiety was reached even before the recession talk of 2008. Today, that number might well be even higher.

While all Americans are feeling the pinch, anxiety is at the highest level among African Americans and Hispanics, who are significantly more likely to feel that a higher education is necessary for success, and, at the same time, are much more likely to believe that higher education is becoming less available for many motivated and qualified individuals (see Figure 8).


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