Finding One
Finding Two
Finding Three
Finding Four
Changes in Attitudes Over Time
California and the Nation at Large
Supporting Tables
About the Author
Public Agenda
The National Center for Public Policy

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Finding One: Californians Believe That Higher Education Is Vitally Important For Success In The Contemporary World.

In early 2000, Public Agenda surveyed 503 Californians statewide to determine their attitudes toward higher education. In addition, we held two focus groups in Santa Clara. We also conducted two previous statewide surveys in 1993 and 1996. Although most of the questions in the 2000 study were new, we did use several questions from the earlier studies, giving us an opportunity to track changes.

In many ways, the attitudes of Californians regarding higher education are strikingly similar to the views of the nation as a whole, as revealed in our large scale survey of public attitudes, Great Expectations: How the Public and Parents—White, African American, and Hispanic—View Higher Education. Four major conclusions emerged from our California research, which are also supported by what we found nationwide. In addition, the final section of this report describes a few areas where the attitudes of Californians differ somewhat from those of Americans generally.

For the purpose of this research, we define higher education broadly to include all education and training beyond high school, including two- and four-year, public and private, for-profit and nonprofit institutions.

Finding One:

Most people in California believe that a higher education is essential for a person to succeed in today’s world. In effect, California residents now see a college education as having replaced a high school diploma as the minimum entry ticket to a solid job and a middle-class lifestyle.

In the survey, we found:

  • Fully 85% strongly or somewhat agree that a college degree has become as important as a high school diploma used to be.
  • Only 13% think that it is possible to reach a point where too many people have a college degree; the overwhelming majority (81%) believe that this is one area where there can never be too much of a good thing.

      As higher education is being seen as more important for success in today’s economy and society, the public is also placing a premium on the significance of preserving access to higher education for anyone who is sufficiently qualified and motivated. In effect, Californians see access to higher education as equivalent to access to the American dream. They believe that it is vitally important that we provide adequate opportunities for a higher education to all qualified and motivated individuals.

      Specifically, Californians do not want students to be excluded from a college education by cost alone. Seventy-three percent strongly agree that we should not allow the price of a college education to keep qualified and motivated students from going to college. The percentage of Caifornians who feel this way is significantly higher today than in the recent past, as shown in our two previous studies; fewer (66%) strongly agreed in 1993, and this percentage dropped in 1996 to 53%.


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