Download PDF File 360KB
 
Introduction
 
1. Stability in Values
 
2. Growing Concerns
about Access
 
3. Attitudes about Social Class and Access
 
4. Older People Seeking Retraining
 
5. The Responsibility of Students
 
6. Necessary for Success
 
7. Holding the Line on Price Increases
 
Conclusion: Growing Importance of Higher Education
 
Appendix
 
About the Author
 
About Public Agenda
 
About the National
Center for
Public Policy and
Higher Education
 
Front Page of Report
 

home   about us   news   reports   crosstalk   search   links    



Page 4 of 13

  3. Attitudes about Social Class and Access

While the majority of people still think that students from middle-class families have at least as much opportunity as other students, there is a growing sense that middle-class opportunity is weakening.

Higher education critics sometimes say that paying for college is toughest for the middle class; they argue that minority students and students from poor families can get scholarships, well-to-do families can afford to pay the bills, but middle-class families are stuck in the middle. According to the critics, middle-class families have too much money to qualify for a scholarship but not enough to pay the bills. Partly in response to this concern, several states have increased the number of merit scholarships that, for all practical purposes, are targeted mostly to the middle class.

In several of our surveys, we asked a series of questions about college access for various economic and ethnic groups. Contrary to what many of the critics might expect, a substantial majority of the public in 2000 thought that students from middle-class families were doing well in terms of opportunity to get a college education (see table 6). Specifically, 82% said that qualified students from the middle class had about the same or more opportunity than other groups, as compared to 66% who said this about qualified students from ethnic or racial minorities, and 51% who said this about qualified students from low-income families.

Our most recent survey, however, shows a softening of this view, which may be driven by the fact that many middle-class families have felt the impact of unemployment and layoffs. Today, a larger number of people think that middle-class students have problems with college opportunity. For example, the percentage of people who say that qualified students from middle-class families have less opportunity for higher education than other groups was only 16% in the year 2000, but today that number has risen to 24%. This change in perception has taken place among blacks and whites, as well as people with household incomes over $50,000. Conversely, the number of people who believe that middle-class students have more or about the same opportunity has fallen.

Table Six

 

General Public

How about qualified students from MIDDLE-CLASS families, regardless of their ethnic background? Do they have less opportunity, more opportunity, or about the same opportunity as others to get a college education?

2003
(n=801)
%

2000
(n=1,015)
%

1998
(n=700)
%

Less opportunity

24

16

24

More opportunity

17

22

13

About the same

56

60

62

Public attitudes about opportunity for low-income students or students from ethnic or racial minorities have remained stable during this period. The percentage of people who believe that qualified students from low-income families have less opportunity (46% in 2000 and 44% today) has not changed significantly. Likewise, the change in the percentage of people who say that students from ethnic/racial minorities have less opportunity (29% in 2000 and 27% in 2003) is also not significant.

Views of Various Demographic Groups. On this issue of access, there is some fluctuation among the attitudes of respondents in various subgroups of the population (see table 7). Here we note the differences that are statistically significant:

  • Hispanics give a better assessment of the place of minorities, at least relative to other groups. In 2003, 55% of Hispanics say that qualified students who are racial/ethnic minorities have the same opportunity to attend college as others, up from 40% who said this in 2000. But Hispanics have become less optimistic about access for qualified students from low-income families. The percentage of Hispanics who say that such students have more opportunity to go to college dropped from 24% in 2000 to a mere 5% today. These two findings might suggest that Hispanics are tending to define access more as an issue of class than as ethnicity.

  • People whose household income is more than $50,000 per year tend to think low-income families are doing better on this front. In 2000, 51% of these respondents felt that qualified students from low-income families had less opportunity; that number has dropped to 39% today.

  • As we have noted, there is an overall change in how the public assesses middle-class opportunity. The largest changes in this view, however, come from three groups: parents of high school students, African Americans, and from families who make more than $50,000 per year.

Table Seven

Qualified students from middle-class families (regardless of their ethnic background) have less opportunity than others to get a college education.

2003
%

2000
%

Parents of high school students

38
(n=102)

20
(n=200)

African Americans

30
(n=93)

10
(n=107)

Families with incomes over $50,000

24
(n=260)

15
(n=290)

DOWNLOAD | PREVIOUS | NEXT

National Center logo
© 2004 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

HOME | about us | center news | reports & papers | national crosstalk | search | links | contact

site managed by NETView Communications