Foreword
 
Executive Summary
 
Acknowledgments
 
Introduction
 
Finding One
 
Finding Two
 
Finding Three
 
Finding Four
 
Finding Five
 
Afterword
 
Supporting Tables
 
Endnotes
 
Methodology
 
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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Page 2 of 18

Executive Summary

FINDING ONE
Higher Education, More Important than Ever

Higher education is perceived as extremely important, and for most people a college education has become the necessary admission ticket to good jobs and a middle-class lifestyle. Parents of high school students place especially high importance on a college education, and African American and Hispanic parents give college an even higher priority than do white parents. All groups believe that the country should ensure that no qualified and motivated student is excluded from a college education because of the cost.

FINDING TWO
More Than a Piece of Paper

To the public, getting a higher education is much more than putting in time and walking away with a sheepskin -- the public holds a long list of expectations for higher education institutions. Colleges should help students develop maturity, organizational skills and an ability to get along with others, and should provide specific skills, such as problem-solving and communication. People also have high expectations for the institutions themselves. They want institutions to keep the costs down, but they also want to ensure quality by hiring good teachers and holding students to high standards.

FINDING THREE
The Responsibility Rests with the Student, But Institutions Should Help Those Who Help Themselves

The public, in contrast to how it views K-12 education, tends to emphasize the responsibility of college students, but this does not mean that they exempt higher education institutions from any responsibility. This attitude is manifested in areas such as remediation and financial aid. The public expects schools to help students who are having trouble, but the initiative should come from individuals.

FINDING FOUR
Paying for College Is Difficult but Doable

Despite the often-heard complaints about the high cost of higher education, most people believe that anyone who really wants a college education can get one. Parents say that they are worried about paying for their own children's education, but they also say that they are confident that their children will go to college and that they will work out a way to pay for it. Most people agree that people from low-income families have a more difficult time than others.

FINDING FIVE
High Satisfaction, Low Familiarity -- In Contrast with Leaders

The majority of the public believes that higher education is delivering a valuable service and that a college education is available to anyone who really wants one. At least for the moment, the public is satisfied with the nation's higher education, and people are much more likely to focus their attention on other issues that they perceive as more problematic. For a variety of reasons, most Americans do not know a great deal about the details of higher education administration and financing, and have not yet taken a position on some of the questions and debates about higher education that have engaged the nation's leaders.

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