Varying Degrees

New America’s Annual Survey on Higher Education

Americans believe in the tremendous potential of higher education—but they also feel that higher education is falling short of that promise. New America’s inaugural annual poll about perceptions of higher education reveals a gap between what higher education could, and should, be and what higher education currently is.

Varying Degrees: New America’s Annual Survey on Higher Education surveys 1,600 Americans ages 18 and older to better understand their perceptions of and knowledge about higher education and economic mobility. The survey shows unifying themes as well as differences across age, gender, generation, region, and socioeconomic status when it comes to the value of a college education, who is responsible for student success, the ideal role of government, and the goal of higher education.

Our top findings include:

  • Americans are split about whether there are lots of well-paying jobs that do not require a college degree. About half (51 percent) agree that there are lots of well-paying jobs that do not require college attendance.
  • There is wide agreement (75 percent), however, that it is easier to be successful with a degree than without. 
  • Only a quarter of Americans agree that our higher education system is functioning fine just the way it is. 
  • Over half (57 percent) of Americans believe that colleges and universities should help their students succeed.

This survey provides an important opportunity to see how the opinions of and knowledge about higher education of older generations such as the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers compare to Millennials and their younger counterparts, Generation Z.

The survey data can help inform education policy and funding decisions that affect all Americans, but particularly current and prospective college students. This year’s findings will also serve as a baseline to measure shifts in beliefs and perceptions over time.

ATTACHMENTs:

Varying Degrees: New America's Annual Survey on Higher Education
Varying Degrees: Perception vs. Reality

Authors:

Rachel Fishman is the deputy director for research with the Education Policy program at New America.

Manuela Ekowo was a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She provided research and analysis on policies related to higher education including innovations in higher education delivery, the use of technology, open educational resources (OER), and ensuring equitable outcomes for underrepresented students.

Ernest Ezeugo is an administrative assistant with the Education Policy program at New America. He is a member of the higher education team.