Americans Are Proud of U.S. Colleges but Not of Their Direction

November 27, 2012

Amid recession-era challenges in higher education and concerns about the nation's competitiveness, Americans are simultaneously proud of colleges in the United States and critical of the direction in which they're heading, according to the results of a national opinion poll released on Monday by Northeastern University.

While a majority of those surveyed said American colleges are pre-eminent in the world, an overwhelming number saw a strong need for higher education to innovate in order to preserve its global competitive edge.

According to the survey, conducted for Northeastern by FTI Consulting in October, three in four respondents said American colleges outranked those in both emerging and mature economies. But 83 percent said American higher education "needs to change to remain competitive." That view was even more prevalent among adults ages 18 to 30, 90 percent of whom agreed with that statement.

The telephone and online survey of 1,251 respondents confirmed that many Americans view higher education as important to being able to achieve the "American dream," which the survey described as "the opportunity to go as far as your talents and hard work will take you and to live better than your parents," and crucial for maintaining the nation's standing in the world.

However, the results echoed and reinforced prevalent concerns about rising tuition costs and college accessibility, as 86 percent of respondents said that paying for college was a big obstacle to obtaining a college degree, and 64 percent of those ages 18 to 30 reported that high college costs had led a close friend or family member to postpone college or not attend at all.

Furthermore, the survey found that four out of five Americans, regardless of political affiliation, believe that the U.S. government should spend more on higher education. That number encompasses the 91 percent of Democratic, 81 percent of independent, and 64 percent of Republican respondents who replied in favor of increased government support, according to a statement released by Northeastern University.