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New Study Highlights the American Public’s Perception of Higher Ed

Last week I attended the Gallup-Lumina Foundation study release event for their 2014 study on Americans’ college aspirations and barriers. Entitled Postsecondary Education Aspirations and Barriers, The 2014 Gallup-Lumina Foundation Study of the American Public’s Opinion on Higher Education, the full study and methodology can be found here, but I wanted to highlight and share statistics that are most relevant to the Education Design Lab’s work and might go against what we might assume are the trends in attitudes about higher education and its value.

Most notable from the study is the fact that just 13% of Americans surveyed believe that college graduates are well prepared for the workplace. Yet the perception of value of a bachelor’s degree as compared to other types of postsecondary education options is still highest, suggesting there is a disconnect between how we value a college education versus how well we think it will prepare us for the workforce. Furthermore, organizations in the U.S. continue to prioritize skills and experience as a primary factor in their hiring decisions.

As the executive summary states, “As workplaces evolve to compete with the demands of a global economy, most U.S. adults are not convinced that colleges are preparing students for job success. The majority feel the higher education system needs to change to better meet the needs of today’s students, yet less than half believe that colleges and universities are doing so. In particular, institutions could do more to meet the needs of black and Hispanic students, whose degree attainment rates continue to fall short of the national average.” Of course, this study is one of the American public’s perspective on higher education, not one of the statistics supporting or refuting each of these beliefs, but it still stands as another example of why traditional school-to-work structures need to better adapt to serve a 21st century economy.

Select Survey Results

Of Americans Surveyed:

»80% agree or strongly agree that colleges and universities need to change to better meet the needs of today’s students.

»Only 13% believe college graduates are well prepared for success in the workplace (down from 14% in 2013, and 17% in 2012).

»Given the options of high school diploma, professional certificate, associate degree and bachelor’s degree, Americans are most confident that a bachelor’s degree can lead to a good job.

»When it comes to the factors organizations prioritize in deciding whom to hire, a strong majority of U.S. adults (81%) say that the job candidate’s knowledge and skills in the field is very important. Far fewer say the job candidate’s university major (47%) or the institution (31%) he or she graduated from are very important factors in the decision.

Further Reading

Further reading on the study’s findings and implications for higher ed transformation can be found in the articles listed below.

Gallup-Lumina Foundation Poll Finds Overwhelming Majority of Americans Support Increasing Attainment – Hispanics & African Americans Believe Most Strongly in the Power of Postsecondary Education for Jobs & Quality of Life, Business News Wire, April 16, 2015

Most Americans Say Higher Education Not Affordable,, April 16, 2015

• What People Think About College: a Snapshot of Public Opinion, The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 17, 2015

• Latinos, Blacks Strongest Supporters for Increasing College Attainment, Poll Finds, Education Week, April 17, 2015 (subscription required)

• America has no confidence that its college graduates are ready to work,, April 28, 2015



Do these survey results surprise you? Concern you? What do you think the American public’s attitudes about higher education in this country tell those of us working on innovation in higher ed, both within and outside institutions themselves? Start a discussion in the comments below.