For the entire period that we have been tracking public opinion, Americans have always felt that higher education is important, and have been nearly unanimous in thinking that a young person is best advised to pursue a college education rather than take even a good job out of high school (see Figure 1).

But in recent years, we have also seen a dramatic growth of a new value, one that asserts that college is not only important but is absolutely necessary for success in todayís economy. The number of people who think that a young person can succeed without college has dropped from 67% in 2000 to 49% today (see Figure 2).

From the publicís point of view, in other words, a higher education has become the essential admission ticket to be considered for a high quality job (see Figure 3).

A good job, in turn, is seen as the pathway to middle-class status. As a result, the public has come to regard access to higher education as a virtual right (see Figure 4).

Note: Question wording in charts may be slightly edited for space. Full question wording is available from the National Center at Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding or the omission of some answer categories.


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