A recent New York Times article covered Americans’ declining faith in the value of college, and recent polls have shown that Americans’ opinions of higher education have dropped over the past decade.
To get a better understanding of how valuable Americans think college is today, in September, Intelligent.com surveyed 1,202 Americans.
- 27% of Americans say college today isn’t worth it
- Republicans, student loans holders are more likely than counterparts to say it’s not worth it
- 1 in 8 advanced degree holders say the level of education they achieved was not worthwhile
- 91% of parents with children under 18 want their child to go to college
- 69% of parents who feel college isn’t worth it still want their own child to go
27% of Americans say college today isn’t worth it
Overall, 27% of Americans say college is ‘probably not’ (22%) or ‘definitely not’ (5%) worth it. On the other hand, 30% say it’s ‘definitely worth it’ and 43% say it ‘probably is worth it.’
Younger Americans were slightly less likely to say they felt college today wasn’t worth it. Twenty-six percent of 18-25 year olds say college isn’t worth it compared to 29% of 26-35 year olds, 30% of 36-45 year olds, 27% of 46-55 year olds, and 29% of those over 55 years old.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say it’s not worth it (29% vs. 22%), and for slightly different reasons, which we will address in the next section.
Individuals whose highest level of education was an associate’s degree or high school were more likely to say they felt college wasn’t worth it compared to those with a college degree or higher.
Additionally, those who took out student loans to pay for higher education were more likely to say they don’t feel college today is worth it than those who did not take out student loans (22% vs. 13%).
Our survey didn’t show that women and men had different opinions on the value of college.
4 in 10 Republicans who say college isn’t worth it point to politics
Nearly all respondents (93%) feel the cost of college is ‘way too expensive’ (57%) or ‘too expensive’ (36%), so it’s not surprising that this is a driving reason behind why many do not feel college is worth it.
Overall, the top reasons those who say college isn’t worth it include the cost (75%), belief it does not improve job prospects (51%), belief what’s taught is not valuable (31%), and belief it’s too liberal or political (26%).
Republicans were far more likely than Democrats or Independents to say colleges are too liberal or political (45% vs. 8% and 29% respectively). Men were also more likely to say this than women (33% vs. 22%).
Republicans were also twice as likely to say what’s taught isn’t valuable and three times as likely to say students don’t take college seriously enough.
For those who say college is worth it, overwhelmingly the top reason is it improves job prospects (75%). Additionally, 51% say a more educated population benefits the country, 39% say what is taught is valuable, and 35% say college prepares students for life. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say college improves job prospects (81% vs. 71%).
1 in 8 advanced degree holders say it wasn’t worthwhile
Thirteen percent of Americans with a Bachelor’s degree or higher say achieving this level of education hasn’t been worthwhile.
Respondents with a Doctoral degree or Master’s degrees were more likely than those with only a Bachelor’s degree to say the level of education they achieved wasn’t worth it.
Additionally, those who took out student loans were less likely to feel their educational attainment was worthwhile than those who did not take out student loans (14% vs. 10%).
9 in 10 parents want their children to go to college
We asked respondents with children under the age of 18 whether they would want their child to attend college or not. Of this group, 91% say they ‘definitely’ (54%) or ‘probably’ (37%) want their child to go to college.
Even among those who say they don’t feel college is worth it, 69% want their child to go to college.
Only 12% of parents with children under 18 say they aren’t currently saving and don’t plan to save for college.
Expert says for most people, a degree does pay off
“Despite the high price of college for most people, a degree does pay off – and an advanced degree can double your lifetime earnings,” says Professor and Higher Education Advisor Diane Gayeski.
“It is not just what is learned in class that prepares you for a specific job. The college experience includes exposure to new kinds of people and places. You have the opportunity to develop leadership skills through clubs or athletics and broaden your appreciation for the many opportunities that your future life will hold.
“In one of my welcome addresses to new students when I was a Dean, I told them that the purpose of college was FUN. They looked confused and were wondering whether I was going to give them directions to the nearest house party. I told them that we hope that their courses will prepare them for a career in which they find purpose and joy, as well as a stable income. But beyond that, it can open up new horizons for pleasure. If they study French, they’ll have a better time touring France and will be confident ordering from a menu that has French terms. If they learn to ski or golf, they can say ‘yes’ when friends or business acquaintances make an invitation. Learning about art can make it fun to tour a museum, and making friends through dorm life and clubs may well create bonds for a lifetime – even perhaps with a future spouse or partner.
“Jeff Selingo, a prominent author and consultant on higher education found that ‘Success in college is about how you go, not just where you go.’ By that, he means a student can create wonderful opportunities at a college by taking advantage of getting to know professors outside of class, attending lectures and cultural events, taking a campus job or internship, and stepping outside their traditional ‘box’ of activities or skills through clubs or campus leadership.
“Some students might attend an elite school, but if all they do is go to class, they’ll fail to collect many building blocks of future value and will likely not have a very enjoyable time.”
This online poll was commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted via SurveyMonkey on September 14, 2023. Respondents consist of a national sample of 1,202 Americans recruited using SurveyMonkey Audience.
Respondents were selected to represent the U.S. population by age, gender, and region.