The following major themes emerged from our review of recent survey research on the affordability of higher education in the United States.
The importance of higher education. In the view of most Americans, it's very important for individuals to receive a higher education. Preparation for jobs and career is seen as the primary role for higher education, but the public also stresses the importance of general skills such as maturity and getting along with others. African-American and Hispanic parents stress the importance of college for their children at even higher rates than does the population as a whole.
Concerns about price, confidence about accessibility. Many Americans, especially parents, are concerned about the price of higher education. Although they know very little about the details, they feel that rising prices threaten to make higher education inaccessible to many people. Despite all of the anxiety, however, Americans seem confident that those who are sufficiently qualified and motivated are currently able to attend college. Parents of high school students are optimistic that their children will be able to get a higher education. Our focus group respondents said that even if prices increase, students and families can compensate by "trading down" to a local community college rather than going to a four-year school, or by attending college part-time rather than full-time.
The role of government. There is public support for a government role in making college affordable, but the public does not think that this area should be a major priority for government attention. Our focus group respondents felt that it was more important for government to intervene in other areas (such as health care, retirement, or the environment) in which people really cannot cope without government support. The public supports financial aid generally, and gives most support to tax breaks and work-study.
Other ways to keep college affordable. Although the public has not thought through the complexities of higher education financing, Americans are opposed to approaches that reduce access either by raising tuition or admitting fewer students. They are more sympathetic to approaches that emphasize greater contributions from the state or savings by colleges themselves.