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Preface and Methodology
Executive Summary
I. The Importance of Higher Education
II. Concerns about Price, Confidence about Accessiblity
III. The Role of Government
IV. Other Ways to Keep College Affordable
Probing Behind the Findings
About the Author
About Public Agenda
About the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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Preface and Methodology

At the request of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Public Agenda has compiled this review of survey research on the affordability of higher education. We reviewed relevant survey findings from our own research, particularly from two reports prepared by Public Agenda for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Great Expectations (2000) and The Price of Admission (1998). Taking Stock (2000), a report from the American Council on Education, also was a useful source. We also reviewed the survey results available on iPoll, an online research database maintained by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut. We drew primarily on research conducted between January 1997 and August 2001.*

In order to explore some questions raised by the quantitative findings, we conducted two focus groups in the Philadelphia area, one with members of the general public and one with parents of high school and college students. We have organized our findings around five major themes:

  • The perceived importance of higher education;
  • Concerns about the price of higher education;
  • Beliefs that, despite rising prices, higher education is still accessible;
  • Views on the role of government; and
  • Views about other steps to keep college affordable.
In the body of the text, we have summarized the data available on each of these themes and on some related subthemes. The endnotes describe the results in greater detail. We conclude with some insights and hypotheses gained from the focus groups.

* All of the survey data in this report comes from polls that were fielded before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The two focus groups, however, were conducted two weeks after the attacks, on September 25, 2001. Participants in the groups did not seem to be thinking differently about higher education issues as a result of the tragedy. Our data suggest that attitudes on topics not specifically related to terrorism seem to be affected more by issues such as the economy, rather than by the tragedy itself.


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