Millennials in particular felt this way, despite being on track to be the most educated generation yet and the most experienced with the system. Among this group, 64 percent said colleges put their own interests first and only 13 percent say higher education is fine as it is, compared to 42 percent and 39 percent, respectively, for the Silent Generation (age 72 and up).
So despite 79 percent of respondents saying most people benefit from enrolling in college (see chart, below), they also realize there are few alternatives, said Amy Laitinen, New America’s director for higher education and a former official in the Obama administration.
And while the survey didn’t find quite the same level of skepticism about higher education that Public Agenda did in a survey last year -- just 42 percent of Americans said college is necessary for work force success, that survey found, a 13 percentage point decline from 2009 -- Laitinen said New America’s research doesn’t mean colleges are off the hook.
“It shows that Americans see the value,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean they’re happy with it.”
“Americans seem to be aware that we have a completion crisis,” said Rachel Fishman, a senior policy analyst at New America and a co-author of the report.
Community colleges and public, four-year institutions fared better in the survey than did for-profit or private colleges. That suggests the stigma around attending community colleges may be fading.
“Two-year community colleges really seem to be having a moment,” said Fishman.
For example, fewer than half of respondents said for-profits (40 percent) and private colleges (43 percent) are worth the cost, compared to 61 percent who said that about public, four-year institutions and a whopping 82 percent about community colleges.
Likewise, 42 percent and 41 percent of respondents believe, respectively, that private and for-profit institutions are “for people in my situation,” the survey found.
“This data is not good news for them,” Fishman said.