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 7 of 13

  6. Necessary for Success

Although the public has consistently stressed the importance of higher education, people have not always been as ready to insist that higher education is necessary for success. The number of people who think that a college education is a necessity has risen and the increase is particularly notable among African Americans and Hispanics.

General Public. As we have noted, large majorities of the general public have consistently emphasized the importance of higher education. In our most recent survey, 87% said that a high school graduate should go on to college rather than taking any decent job after high school, and 76% said that getting a college education is more important than it was 10 years ago. These percentages are virtually unchanged from our finding in previous surveys. We have also found that the public makes a distinction between the importance of higher education and the necessity of getting a college degree. Most people indicate that a college education is important, but we have also seen broad support for the idea that a college education is not necessarily the only path to success in the work world. In focus groups, people often point to Bill Gates-a college dropout who became the richest man in the world-as an example of the principle that one can be successful without a college degree.

In our 2000 study, 67% said that there are many ways to succeed in today's work world without a college education, compared to only 31% who said that a college education is necessary for success. Today that gap has narrowed somewhat, with 61% saying that there are many ways to succeed and 37% saying that a college degree is necessary. A growing and sizeable minority of the public, in other words, believe that college is essential for success in today's work world. This increased perception of the necessity of a college education is notable in itself, but is of even greater concern when we remember that it is accompanied by an increase (from 47% to 57%) in the number of people who say that many qualified people do not have an opportunity to attend college. From the perspective of the general public, in other words, at the same time that more people are saying that college is a necessity, the number who are saying that college is inaccessible has also increased.

African Americans and Hispanics. The views of black Americans on this question have changed dramatically since our last survey. In 2000, the majority of African Americans (64%) said there are many ways to succeed at work without a college education, compared to 35% who said college is necessary (see table 10). Today the view of African Americans has changed, so that a majority (53%) now say that college is necessary for success, compared to 45% who say that there are many other paths to success in the work world.

Table Ten

 

African Americans

Hispanics

Do you think that a college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world, or do you think that there are many ways to succeed in today’s work world without a college education?

2003
(n=93)
%

2000
(n=107)
%

2003
(n=86)
%

2000
(n=100)
%

College is necessary

53

35

53

41

There are many ways to succeed without a college education

45

64

41

57

The views of African Americans on the necessity of a college education are particularly striking when we relate them to attitudes about access. Fifty-three percent of African Americans say that college is essential for success at work, and an even larger majority (76%) believe that many qualified people in their state do not have an opportunity to attend college. In addition, 63% of black respondents feel that students from low-income families have less opportunity to attend college than others, and 56% also say that students from racial and ethnic minorities have less opportunity to attend college. Many African Americans believe, in other words, that this essential path to workplace success is closed for a large number of Americans, especially those from low-income and minority families. One African American woman from Joliette, Illinois, said it this way:

Higher education has gotten more important because of the job market. It is the way jobs are going, everyone wants a person who is educated. But things are tough now especially for African Americans. They don't live in an area where they are getting good schools, so they can't get the scholarships. The reason for that is their economic status. They are usually the low guy on the ladder, the last to get them when the promotions are given out, and the first to get the layoffs.

Hispanic attitudes have followed a similar pattern. In 2000, a majority (57%) said there are many ways to succeed without a college education, compared to only 41% who say this today.

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