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).