For years, tuition and fees have been rising much faster than the rate of inflation. From 2006 to today, the Consumer Price Index for tuition and fees increased 63 percent, compared with 21 percent for all other items (such as food, energy, and housing). And students and families are not just feeling the crunch over the price of tuition and fees. The cost of textbooks and college housing has increased 88 percent and 51 percent, respectively, over the past 10 years. Given that Americans believe that it is easier to be successful with a college degree than without, and that many jobs require a college degree, what types of institutions are most worth the cost?
Americans believe both community colleges (82 percent) and public four-year colleges (61 percent) are worth the cost. They also strongly believe that these public institutions prepare students to be successful and contribute to the American workforce. They see public colleges and universities as being for people in their situation and putting students first.
But while a majority of Americans think all types of colleges and universities contribute to a strong workforce and prepare people to be successful, there is a drop-off compared to public institutions when it comes to “being worth the cost,” “being for people in my situation,” and “always putting students first.” People do not believe that private and for-profit universities are worth the cost (43 percent and 40 percent, respectively) and also do not believe that private and for-profit universities are for “people in my situation” (42 percent and 41 percent, respectively).
Although, when asked generally, a majority of Americans believe that institutions overall put their own long-term interests before those of their students, when then asked about each type of institution, this seems to be more the case for private, for-profit institutions. Most Americans believe that public and private institutions always put students first; they do not feel the same way about for-profit colleges and universities, where only 39 percent believe this to be the case.
When looking at generational differences, Generation Z—people currently the same age as traditionally-aged college students—are most likely to believe that community colleges are for people like them (75 percent), prepare people to be successful (85 percent), and always put their students first (71 percent). Generation Z is also more likely to say that public four-year colleges and universities are for students in their situation (80 percent) and put their students first (57 percent).
Interestingly, the oldest respondents and the youngest align in their perceptions of the for-profit sector. While most people agree that for-profit colleges and universities prepare people to be successful, this is especially the case for Generation Z (71 percent) and the Silent Generation (67 percent). Generation Z and the Silent Generation are also more likely to believe that for-profits contribute to a strong American workforce (67 percent and 65 percent, respectively). In addition, about half the members of Generation Z (50 percent) and the Silent Generation (50 percent) believe that for-profits are worth the cost, compared to 31 percent of Millennials, 38 percent of Generation X, and 37 percent of Baby Boomers.