Thursday, August 3, 2017

Higher Education Facing Partisan Challenge

The public’s view on the positive contributions of higher education to the “way things are going in the country” has declined in the last seven years. Republicans in particular have turned negative on colleges’ and universities’ contributions to the country.

Decline of the Public’s Views
The public’s opinion of colleges’ and universities’ positive contributions has declined from 61 percent in 2010 to 55 percent this year. Much of the decline began in 2015. The public’s negative views increased 8 points during the last 2 years. The data was reported from a Pew Research poll released July 10, 2017. The poll was conducted with 2,504 adults from June 8-18, 2017.

Partisan Voices on Colleges and Universities
Partisanship is a major factor in the decrease in support for colleges and universities. There is a 36 percentage point difference between Democrat and Republican viewpoints on the positive contribution of colleges and universities to the country. Only 36 percent of Republicans have a positive view of colleges and universities, compared to a 72 percent positive view by Democrats. Few Democrats (19%) take a negative view, but a majority of Republicans (58%) do.

Republican Negative Trend
Partisan differences increased since 2015. Republicans’ positive viewpoints went into a steep decline starting in 2015, with support dropping 18 points in the last two years from 54 percent to 36 percent today.

News organizations have reported numerous stories with a negative slant toward higher education in recent years. The high cost of college, student debt loads and low graduation rates have been well covered. Recently, and of more interest to Republicans, have been stories frequently reported in conservative news sites of campus disruptions, takeovers of administrator’s offices, student protests of conservative speakers and an assertion of weak faculty and administrative responses. And, of course, conservative commentators often point out college communities’ consistent voting majorities for Democratic politicians.

Comparison of Colleges and Universities to Other Institutions
Although there has been a recent decline in the positive ratings of colleges’ and universities’ contributions to the country, Pew reports that at 55 percent positive ratings, colleges and universities are still above a host of other institutions tested.

Churches are slightly ahead at 59 percent, but labor unions (47%), banks (39%) and the news media (28%) are behind colleges and universities.

The reputation of colleges and universities is still high, but they face a host of challenging issues. The perception of higher education’s contribution to the country is important to its reputation and effectiveness, and although the recent decline is understandable, the key underlying issues need to be addressed.

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