Executive Summary
Finding One
Finding Two
Finding Three
Finding Four
Finding Five
Supporting Tables
About the Author
Public Agenda
The National Center for Public Policy
Consortium for Policy Research
The National Center for Postsecondary Improvement

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Great Expectations is the most recent and ambitious survey that the Public Agenda organization has conducted to probe the public's attitudes and opinions about higher education. Its authors, John Immerwahr and Tony Foleno, have our congratulations on a masterful job. We are particularly impressed with their use of information from earlier and related surveys to interpret the results of this, the third of a series of three aimed at stimulating public discourse about the role of colleges and universities in maintaining and enhancing the opportunities for all Americans to participate fully in our society.*

This survey is unique in selectively oversampling to reach a group most interested in higher education: parents of high school students. Slightly over 1,000 respondents were drawn from the general public. In addition, the survey oversampled 201 white parents, 202 African American parents and 202 Hispanic parents in order to be able to distinguish these parents' views about higher education from each other. As a result of the findings made possible by this oversampling, Great Expectations will, we believe, lay to rest the myth that parents within minority groups do not value higher education as highly as the general public.

The survey results should encourage friends of higher education. Eighty-seven percent of Americans believe that a college education has become as important as a high school diploma used to be. And there is virtual unanimity (93%) that the price of higher education should not prevent qualified and motivated students from going to college. It is less encouraging, however, to learn that the high marks that the public gives to higher education are not founded on familiarity with it, and that people are much more concerned about the environment, health care, care for the elderly, and the public schools than they are about higher education. Deborah Wadsworth's thoughtful afterword to this report warns of the possible dangers of this lack of awareness and concern, and we urge that it not be overlooked.

We must express our appreciation of the time and assistance given the project by the members of the project's advisory committee: Alfredo G. de los Santos, Jr., Wallace D. Loh, Diana S. Natalicio, Ralph S. Saul and Virginia B. Smith. We appreciate the thoughtful contributions of William Doyle, who directed the project at the National Center. And we are grateful to those whose financial support made the survey possible: The Ford Foundation, the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, and the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement. Although the results are not reflected in this report, seven individual state reports will also be published thanks to support for oversampling by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (for Colorado, Florida and Pennsylvania), by The James Irvine Foundation (for California), by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (for Illinois), by New York University (for New York State), and by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (for North Carolina).

Patrick M. Callan
National Center for Public Policy and HigherEducation


Robert Zemsky
Professor and Director
Institute for Research on Higher Education

* The Price of Admission: The Growing Importance of Higher Education, by John Immerwahr (San Jose: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and Public Agenda, 1998) and Taking Responsibility: Leaders' Expectations of Higher Education, by John Immerwahr (San Jose: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and Public Agenda, 1999).


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