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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
 

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  2. Growing Concerns about Access

There are signs that the public is becoming more troubled about access to higher education. This concern is especially widespread among parents of high school students and African Americans.

In three of our surveys, we asked our respondents if they believe that getting a college education has become more or less difficult compared to 10 years ago (see table 2). The percentage who say that getting a college education is more difficult has dropped from 55% when we first asked this question in 1993 to 47% today. In 2003, about half of the general public also believe that getting a college education is either about as difficult (30%) or less difficult (16%) than it was 10 years ago.

Table Two

 

General Public

In your view, has getting a college education become more difficult than it was 10 years ago, less difficult than it was 10 years ago, or is it about as difficult as it was 10 years ago?

2003
(n=801)
%

2000
(n=1,015)
%

1998
(n=700)
%

1993
(n=502)
%

More difficult

47

NA

43

55

Less difficult

16

NA

18

12

About as difficult

30

NA

32

28

By this measure, then, public attitudes on college access have improved. Beneath the surface, however, we also see some growing concerns about access.

General Public. In each of our previous surveys, we asked our respondents to tell us whether the vast majority of people in their state who are qualified to go to college actually have the opportunity to do so (see table 3). When we first asked this question in 1993, we found a widespread concern about access to higher education. Six out of ten said that there are many people in their state who are qualified to go to college but do not have the opportunity to do so. In the intervening years, that percentage has dropped dramatically. In the 1998 and 2000 surveys, less than half felt this way. Today, concerns about access have returned, and the number of people who say that many qualified people cannot go to college has jumped up to 57%.

Table Three

 

General Public

Do you believe that currently, in your state, the vast majority of people who are qualified to go to college have the opportunity to do so, or do you think there are many people who are qualified to go but donít have the opportunity to do so?

2003
(n=801)
%

2000
(n=1,015)
%

1998
(n=700)
%

1993
(n=502)
%

There are many people who donít have the opportunity

57

47

45

60

Vast majority have the opportunity

37

45

49

37

Parents of High School Students. Although the public in general may not be focused on issues concerning higher education, the parents of high school students presumably have a much greater stake in this topic. Not surprisingly, this group appears to be particularly sensitive to changes in access to higher education, and our most recent survey findings bear this out (see table 4). In 2000, just over half (52%) of high school parents said that the vast majority of qualified people do have an opportunity to attend college. In our most recent survey, the picture has changed. The percentage of high school parents who are optimistic about opportunity has dropped 18 points, with only 34% saying that the vast majority of qualified people in their state have the chance to go to college. Fifty-eight percent say there are many who do not have the chance.

Table Four

 

High School Parents

Do you believe that currently, in your state, the vast majority of people who are qualified to go to college have the opportunity to do so, or do you think there are many people who are qualified to go but donít have the opportunity to do so?

2003
(n=102)
%

2000
(n=200)
%

There are many people who donít have the opportunity

58

42

Vast majority have the opportunity

34

52

The survey results also suggest some possible reasons for this change. People who do not have children in high school do not necessarily follow what is going on with financial aid, but it is reasonable to suppose that high school parents may be tracking this topic more closely. In 2000, we asked our respondents if they believed that "almost anyone who needs financial help to go to college can get loans or financial aid." At that time, more than 6 out of 10 high school parents (64%) either strongly or somewhat agreed with this statement. Today the number of high school parents who endorse that statement has fallen to 46%. In all likelihood, these high school parents are worried about finding the financial resources to send their own children to college, which may in turn have changed their views on access in general. A father in the Boston suburbs said it this way:

    Three of our children have already graduated from college; we have one in college now, and one more in high school. It seems to be getting tougher with each one. It is becoming more expensive to go, more competitive to get in, and the scholarships are becoming less available.

African Americans. Concerns about access to higher education have also changed among African Americans (see table 5). Over the years, black respondents have been consistently more likely to be concerned about access. In 2000, 60% of African Americans said that many people in their state do not have an opportunity for higher education, as compared to a much smaller number of white respondents who felt this way (44%). But by the 2003 study, the level of concern among African Americans spiked, with 76% saying that many qualified people are shut out of higher education (compared to 51% among white respondents).

Table Five

 

African Americans

Do you believe that currently, in your state, the vast majority of people who are qualified to go to college have the opportunity to do so, or do you think there are many people who are qualified to go but donít have the opportunity to do so?

2003
(n=93)
%

2000
(n=107)
%

There are many people who donít have the opportunity

76

60

Vast majority have the opportunity

23

36

Hispanics. A majority of Hispanics consistently feel that many qualified people in their state do not have an opportunity to go to college (59% in 2000 and 67% in 2003). Because of the small sample size among the Hispanic population, this difference is not statistically significant.

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