College generic graduates walking

A new poll says that 60 percent of Americans think that U.S. higher education is going in the wrong direction.

Most institutions (Congress, journalism, state government) poll pretty badly these days, so that top-line result in this Pew Research Center poll that came out Thursday isn’t at all surprising. Neither is the finding that more Republicans and right-leaners* (73 percent) than Democrats and left-leaners (52 percent) think higher ed has wandered off the path.

What’s really interesting is the reasons for the negative views. 

Among folks on the left with negative views of higher ed, the No. 1 problem is college costs by a big, big margin. Ninety-two percent of left-leaners say it's a reason for their negative view of higher ed.

Those on the right with negative views of higher ed identify four major problems. There’s tuition, of course, though that's only their second biggest issue. They also think college graduates don't have the right job skills, and they believe colleges spend too much time coddling students. The No. 1 problem with higher ed in their view: They think professors bring their social and political views to class. 

These differing views on faculty probably best illustrates the left-right gap in opinions on higher ed. On the right, 79 percent of the right say professors' views are a big problem. On the left, only 17 percent say it's an issue to them.

Even more interesting is a breakdown by age of those on the right. Older conservative folks (65+) are less likely than younger right-leaners (18-34) to say tuition is too high. But seniors are way more likely to point to inadequate job skills, coddled students and professors’ views as the reasons they think higher ed is going to hell.

To look at it another way: The Pew poll found that people who haven’t been on a college campus in decades, if ever, are a lot more likely than recent college graduates and actual college students to ID job skills, coddling and professors' views as problems. I wonder how that could have happened?

For more reading on the poll, here’s the Pew report, and here are write-ups from the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed.

For those who care about the survey's nuts and bolts, the Pew poll interviewed nearly 4,600 adults in late June and early July. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

* P.S.: I used "left-leaners" and "right-leaners" and variations of those terms here as abbreviations. That's because the Pew poll pulled its partisan results I cited above from two subsets: (1) Democrats and those who lean left and who think higher education is on the wrong track, and (2) Republicans and those who lean right and who think higher ed is on the wrong track. Now do you see why I abbreviated?

Update, July 30: A couple of folks with sensitive eyes called me out on a spot of rough language in the original version of this post. I don't think it's a big deal, but the daily paper Cannot Offend, so I changed it.

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