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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 04:23 PM ET, 05/18/2011

New polls value a college degree

By some measures, it’s a bleak time for colleges and universities. Recent graduates are underemployed and anticipate less earning power than previous generations had. Most Americans now doubt the value of college is worth its high costs, and college presidents don’t believe the current crop of students is as capable as their predecessors.

But beyond these worries about the country’s higher educational apparatus, most recent graduates, despite their job woes, see their degrees as valuable. And by very wide margins, most college grads say their education was a good investment.    

These are the main findings from three new surveys exploring the various challenges of higher education among recent college graduates, the general public and college presidents.

Despite the many reported problems, there is a consensus that a college degree helps people develop intellectually, as well as expands job skills and opportunities.

The poll of recent college graduates comes from researchers at Rutgers University. Among the challenges, they report barely more than half of new graduates are working full-time and almost half of those who’ve landed their first full-time job are not sure they needed the degree to get it.

Expectations for the future are not high, with fewer than half expecting to surpass their parents’ financially. Most, 56 percent, anticipate less financial success than the generation that came before them.  

Even though pessimism runs high, few recent grads express outright regrets. More than seven in 10 say a college degree is as valuable now as it was when they first enrolled.

The polls of the general public and of college presidents – conducted by the Pew Research Center – take a broad look at the role of higher education in society. Most among the general public believe colleges today provide less value than their costs justify. But college presidents have a different concern focused on quality and standards of new students and the institutions themselves.

Taken broadly, a 57 percent majority of Americans think colleges and universities do not offer enough value for the expense. And 75 percent say college is not affordable. But there is a perceived payoff; those who’ve completed college believe their incomes, on average, are $20,000 higher per year than what they would have been if they did not get a degree. And 86 percent of graduates say that college has proved a good investment.  

Among college graduates, about three-quarters say it was “very useful” in helping them grow intellectually and 55 percent say it was very useful in helping prepare for a career.  

Naturally, college presidents take the opposite view from the public at-large on the value they provide, with 76 percent saying the level offered is “excellent” or “good” for students and families. The looming problem they see is the quality of students from public schools: 58 percent think those students come to college less well prepared than similarly educated students a decade ago. And 52 percent say students today study less than they did 10 years ago.  

Few presidents, just 19 percent, say the U.S. higher education system is the best in the world, but many more, 51 percent, say it is one of the best. And nearly two-thirds think it is unlikely that the U.S. will meet President Obama’s goal of leading the world in the number of college graduates by 2020.

By  |  04:23 PM ET, 05/18/2011

Categories:  Economy

 
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