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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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II. 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.

  • 69% of the parents of high school students are very (29%) or somewhat (40%) worried about being able to afford their children's college education.19
  • 68% say that by the year 2020, people in their community will be less able to afford a college education for their children.20
  • 70% think that higher education is being priced beyond the income of the average family, as compared to only 44% who feel that the cost of a house is being priced out of reach, 36% who feel this way about the cost of a secure retirement, and 24% who feel this way about the cost of a car.21

The public is divided on whether most qualified and motivated people currently have an opportunity to attend college, with 45% saying that the vast majority have the opportunity, and 47% saying that there are many who do not have the opportunity.22

The public is divided about whether students from low-income families have less opportunity to get an education than others. Forty-six percent say that these students have less opportunity, while 51% say they have the same (36%) or more opportunity (15%).23

Although public concern is high about how much it costs to attend college, people know little about actual amounts.

  • The public regularly overestimates the cost of a college education (see Table 2).
  • Only 16% correctly understand that state colleges get more support from state government than from student fees and tuition. Half (52%) say that they just don't know enough to answer the question.24

Despite all of the anxiety, Americans seem confident that those who are sufficiently qualified and motivated are currently able to go to college. Parents of high school students are optimistic that their children will be able to get a higher education.

  • 75% of parents of high school students say that it is certain (44%) or very likely (31%) their child will attend college, and another 15% say it's somewhat likely. Of these parents, nearly all (93%) say they will "find a way to work out the costs."25
  • Only 23% of parents of young children are very worried that they won't be able to afford to send their child to college (another 29% say they worry some).26
  • 87% strongly (63%) or somewhat (24%) agree that if someone really wants to go to college, they can find a way to pay for it, even if they have to go to school and work at the same time.27
  • 62% strongly (33%) or somewhat (29%) agree that almost anyone who needs financial help to go to college can get loans or financial aid.28 Seventy-one percent strongly (23%) or somewhat (48%) agree that colleges and universities make a lot of financial aid available.29
  • 72% say that it is still possible for a hardworking individual to "achieve the American dream," defined as "making a decent living, owning a home, and sending their children to college."30


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