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Finding Four
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Finding Four: The Students' Responsibility

The public believes that what a student gets out of a higher education is a function of what he or she puts into it.

There is a widely shared view that higher education's value is a function of the energy and motivation that the student brings to his or her education, and that the amount of effort a student puts into his or her education is much more important than the quality of the college the student attends. A man from Denver, Colorado, had this to say: "Don't get me wrong, a quality school has some value. But really, they are teaching the same math at a rinky-dink college that they are at the big state university. They have to, math is math. What matters is how much the kid puts himself into it."

In other studies we have noted that the public sets high store by the value of reciprocity, namely that rewards should be commensurate with effort.5 This value clearly comes into play in the public's thinking about higher education, and there is a widespread perception that higher education should not be a "free ride," but should provide an opportunity for those who are motivated and willing to give effort and make sacrifices as well receive benefits. Thus, while people are opposed to raising college prices in a way that keeps students out of college, they also don't think that higher education should be a "free ride." Consistent with their emphasis on reciprocity, most Americans feel that students will value their education more if students pay some of the cost themselves.

The Importance of Motivation and Reciprocity


1998 1993
Strongly/somewhat agree that:
  Students appreciate the value of a college education only when they have some personal responsibility for paying for what it costs.* 77% 76%
Which of the following two statements comes closer to your own view?
  The benefit a student gets from attending college mostly depends on how much of an effort he or she puts in. 91 71
  The benefit a student gets from attending college mostly depends on the quality of the college he or she is attending? 7 23
* Wording on this question varies slightly between Public Agenda's 1993 and 1998 studies.

The importance of reciprocity also comes into play when people think about financial aid. Without mentioning how these options would be financed, we presented several ideas that state and federal governments could use to make higher education more affordable for academically qualified students. The ideas that received the most support were work-study, giving students tax breaks, and providing more money for loans. What is appealing about these proposals is that they help students and families to pay for their own education and thus increase opportunity, especially for those who are willing to make extra sacrifices. Direct grants to students were less appealing, perhaps because such grants sound more like an entitlement than something that must be earned. A man from Twin Falls, Idaho, made an explicit connection between work-study and reciprocity: "I think that college students who work to help pay their way do better than those who don't. It disciplines you, and makes you feel more committed to your education because it is not just a free ride.

Ways Government Could Make College More Affordable


1998 1993
State and federal government should more often:
  Provide students with opportunities to work for the financial aid they get.* 80% 80%
  Give tax breaks to help students and their families pay for college 75 NA
  Make money available for student loans.* 57 62
  Grant money directly to students.* 48 43
* Wording on this question varies slightly between Public Agenda's 1993 and 1998 studies.


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© 1998 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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