Student perception of higher ed’s value falls again, survey finds

by Emma


Dive Brief:

  • Nearly two-thirds of college students say higher education is not worth the cost, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 respondents from Third Way and New America, left-aligned think tanks. 

  • That’s up from 49% of college students who held that view in a similar poll conducted last August. A similar share of high school seniors surveyed in May also agreed college isn’t worth the cost. 

  • Students are concerned about the pandemic’s impact on their employment prospects and ability to pay for expenses. More than three-fourths of respondents said they were worried about finding a job after college, and roughly two-thirds said they were concerned about being able to pay their tuition and non-education-related costs. 

Dive Insight: 

Although public perception of higher ed’s value dimmed during the pandemic, it’s unclear if shifting views will affect enrollment. More than half of 200 polled high school seniors (59%) said the health crisis didn’t affect how likely they are to enroll in college, while 23% said it made them more likely and 18% said it made them less likely, the survey found.  

Colleges are hoping enrollment will rebound in the upcoming academic year. Year-over-year undergraduate enrollment slid 3.6% in the fall and 3.5% in the spring, with the community college sector seeing the heaviest losses across both terms, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The survey offers some hope for two-year schools. Of the high school seniors planning to enroll in college, 20% said they intend to do so at a community college, up from 13% who said the same in a similar poll in December. 

Many colleges are planning to resume mostly in-person instruction in the fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June greenlit full capacity, in-person classes for schools whose employees and students are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

More than 540 campuses are mandating the shots for at least some of their students or employees, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s count. In the new survey,  more than three-quarters of college students and high school seniors said they would get the vaccine if their institution required it this fall. 

Only half of surveyed students said they had received at least one shot. Many colleges will likely have a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations on campus this fall. In that scenario, the CDC has advised colleges to adhere to safety measures, such as social distancing and mask-wearing.


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