In early 2000, Public Agenda surveyed 510 Pennsylvanians statewide to examine
their attitudes toward higher education. We also held a focus group in Bala Cynwyd,
a suburb of Philadelphia. In many ways, the attitudes of Pennsylvanians regarding
higher education are strikingly similar to the views of the nation as a whole, as
revealed in our broader 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvanians differ somewhat from those of Americans
For the purposes 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.
PENNSYLVANIANS BELIEVE THAT HIGHER EDUCATION IS VITALLY IMPORTANT FOR SUCCESS
IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD.
Most people in Pennsylvania believe that a higher education is essential for
a person to succeed in today's world. In effect, most Pennsylvania 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:
- 89% strongly or somewhat agree that a college degree has become as important
as a high school diploma used to be.
- Only 23% think that it is possible to reach a point where too many people have
a college degree; most (73%) 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, Pennsylvanians see access to higher education as equivalent to access
to the American dream. Specifically, Pennsylvanians do not want students to be excluded
from a college education by cost alone. Seventy-four percent strongly agree that
we should not allow the price of a college education to keep qualified and motivated
students from going to college.