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).