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Americans Still Say Postsecondary Education Very Important

Americans Still Say Postsecondary Education Very Important

Story Highlights

  • 70% of Americans say postsecondary education "very important"
  • Blacks and Hispanics attach greater importance than whites
  • Individuals seen as most responsible for increasing percent attaining degree

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Americans strongly endorse the value of postsecondary education, with 70% saying it is "very important" for adults to have a degree or professional certificate beyond high school. The percentage of Americans who view having a degree or certificate as very important has held steady near 70% since 2012, even amid declining college enrollment and growing discussions in this country about the value of higher education.

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Blacks and Hispanics, who have lower levels of college degree attainment than whites according to the National Center for Education Statistics, place a greater value on postsecondary education than whites do. Seventy-nine percent of blacks and 78% of Hispanics say education beyond high school is very important, compared with 67% of whites.

These results are based on the fifth annual Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll on Americans' opinions about higher education. The latest study was conducted Oct. 1-Nov. 5, 2015, with 1,616 U.S. adults, including 300 blacks and 302 Hispanics.

The poll also finds Americans place a value on postsecondary education in its own right -- 66% strongly agree or agree that taking some college classes is a good idea even if it does not lead to a degree.

However, perhaps echoing research on lifetime earnings by educational attainment, Americans also see a strong connection between completing a postsecondary education program and finding a good job. Seven in 10 Americans strongly agree (39%) or agree (31%) that having a professional certificate or degree beyond high school is essential for getting a good job. Although solid majorities of whites, blacks and Hispanics agree that a postsecondary education is essential for getting a good job, Hispanics (58%) and blacks (50%) are much more likely than whites (33%) to strongly agree.

Americans' Views of a Degree or Certificate as Being Essential for Getting a Good Job
On a 5-point scale, where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 means strongly agree, please rate your level of agreement with the following item: Having a professional certificate or degree beyond high school is essential for getting a good job.
5 - Strongly agree% 4 - Agree% Total agree%
U.S. adults 39 31 70
Non-Hispanic whites 33 35 68
Non-Hispanic blacks 50 23 73
Hispanics 58 21 79
2015 Gallup-Lumina Foundation Survey on Higher Education

And despite frequent news stories of recent college graduates being unable to get a job in their chosen field after investing tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition, 70% of Americans say having a postsecondary degree or professional certificate will be "more important" in the future to getting a good job; only 7% predict it will be less important.

Consistent with these views, 58% of Americans say it is very important to increase the proportion of people in the U.S. who have a degree or professional certificate beyond high school. That view is held by 71% of Hispanics, 70% of blacks and 54% of whites.

Americans Say Individuals Most Responsible for Increasing Postsecondary Education

A public consensus on the value of postsecondary education is just the first step in increasing education levels in the U.S. population. The survey asked Americans which institutions or actors are most responsible for increasing the proportion of Americans with a college degree or professional certificate.

Americans overwhelmingly believe that individuals themselves are responsible for ensuring that more people in the U.S. earn degrees or certificates beyond high school, with 72% saying individuals are "very responsible." But most Americans also see a variety of U.S. institutions as "very" or "somewhat responsible" for increasing educational attainment, including colleges and universities, government institutions, local communities and businesses.

Americans' Views on How Responsible Various Actors Are for Increasing Postsecondary Degree and Certificate Attainment
How responsible are each of the following to ensuring that more Americans have a degree or certificate beyond high school -- very responsible, somewhat responsible, not too responsible or not responsible at all?
Very responsible% Somewhat responsible%
Individuals themselves 72 24
Colleges and universities 53 40
State governments 38 42
The federal government 36 37
The president of the United States 35 31
Local communities 31 49
Businesses 27 49
2015 Gallup-Lumina Foundation Survey on Higher Education

Among Those Without Degree, 15% Enrolled in a Degree Program

In addition to assessing how much they value higher education, the survey asked Americans about their intentions for completing a college degree program. The 59% of respondents who have not received an associate degree or higher were asked about their current or prospective enrollment in a college degree program. Fifteen percent report they are currently enrolled in a degree program, while another 24% say they plan to enroll in the next five years. The remaining 61% have no plans to enroll in a degree program in the next five years.

Enrollment intentions are particularly high among younger adults; 35% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 say they are currently enrolled and 39% in this age group plan to enroll in the next five years. Also, more than one-third of Americans between the ages of 35 and 49 are enrolled (8%) or plan to enroll (30%) in some education program.

If all those who are enrolled in a degree program or who plan to enroll completed the program, the percentage of U.S. adults with an associate degree or higher would increase from 41% to 64%.

Implications

Although the value of postsecondary education is a matter of increasing debate, Americans are largely convinced that such education is important, is essential to getting a good job and will be more important in the future. That strong commitment to education suggests younger as well as older adults will continue to find ways to attain a degree or professional certificate. And despite the financial obstacles to higher education, 59% of Americans believe postsecondary education is available to anyone in this country who needs it.

In a changing U.S. job market that sees fewer manufacturing positions and more jobs in the information, technology and service fields, the importance of learning advanced skills taught in college or in professional settings is clear. Americans view individuals themselves as most responsible for helping to increase the proportion of those in this country with degrees or certificates, but Americans also see many government and nongovernment institutions as bearing at least some responsibility.

Hispanics and blacks place an especially high value on postsecondary education, even though, on average, those groups are less likely to complete college degree programs than whites or Asians. To some degree, these facts indicate considerable barriers to postsecondary educational attainment still exist. Cost may be the most obvious barrier, and Americans largely share this view, with 76% saying education beyond high school is not affordable to anyone who needs it.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 1-Nov. 5, 2015, with a random sample of 1,616 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The sample included oversamples of 300 non-Hispanic blacks and 302 Hispanics. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 930 non-Hispanic whites, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 300 non-Hispanic blacks, the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 302 Hispanics, the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

The sample of national adults included a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers were selected using random-digit-dial methods.


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