A majority of Americans now believe that the cost of a college degree is not justified, marking a shocking decline in support towards a traditional aspect of the American dream.
According to a recent poll by the Wall Street Journal and NORC, a nonpartisan research organization at the University of Chicago, 56 percent of Americans consider pursuing a four-year college degree to be a risky investment, while 42 percent still believe in the value of such a qualification.
Skepticism is highest among those aged 18 to 13, while those with college degrees have similarly experienced a significant decline in their confidence, indicating a troubling future for higher education.
In 2013, 53 percent of Americans were optimistic about the value of college education, while 40 percent were not. By 2017, only 49 percent of Americans believed that obtaining a four-year degree would result in better job prospects and higher income, compared to 47 percent who held the opposite view.
“These findings are indeed sobering for all of us in higher education, and in some ways, a wake-up call,” said Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education. “We need to do a better job at storytelling, but we need to improve our practice, that seems to me to be the only recipe I know of regaining public confidence.”
The public’s view of the value of higher education has been in decline since the 2008 financial crisis, a trend that has been further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, there has been a 15 percent drop in college enrollment in the U.S. over the last 10 years, while alternative forms of credentials, such as apprenticeships, have experienced a significant surge in popularity.
In 2017, skepticism towards the value of a college degree was most pronounced among men, Republicans, and those residing in rural areas. This skepticism was followed by a widening gender disparity in higher education, as hundreds of thousands of men withdrew from college during the pandemic.
The poll found that discontent with the value of a college degree is now widespread, affecting individuals across all age groups, including residents of both cities and suburbs. However, there are still certain demographics that retain faith in a degree, primarily Democrats, individuals with a college degree, and those earning more than $100,000 per year.
Surprisingly, more than 42 percent of people with college degrees now believe it is not worth the investment, indicating a significant shift in opinion compared to previous polls conducted over the last decade.
The decline in confidence is being driven by women and older Americans. The survey shows that individuals over the age of 65 who believe in the value of a college degree dropped from 56 percent in 2017 to 44 percent in the most recent poll. Similarly, the proportion of women who believe in the worth of a college degree fell from 54 percent to 44 percent.
The shock poll comes at a time when the cost of attending America’s top colleges is reaching astronomical prices. All eight universities comprising the Ivy League, namely Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale, are currently charging annual fees ranging from $76,000 to almost $90,000 for tuition, accommodation, and administrative fees.