Barometer for Public Perception of Higher Education

Old-barometers

In Spring 2014, the Association of College Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) commissioned GfK Custom Research to gauge the public’s perception of higher education and the role of trustees in shaping the direction of their institutions. It should not come as a surprise that the American public has become disillusioned with the direction that colleges and universities are taking, but the college governance survey is breathtaking in scope and offers a very interesting window on where the public thinks accountability lies.

Americans are worried about the state of higher education, and they believe boards need to take more responsibility. Nearly three out of four respondents believe boards should not allow their institutions to surrender to pressure to withdraw speaking invitations to controversial speakers. 89% of respondents believe college is becoming out of reach for the middle class. Nearly three quarters do not believe that students get their money’s worth. And an astounding 91% said it is the board’s responsibility to “take the lead in reforming higher education to lower costs and improve quality.”

Among the findings:

  • 62% of Americans believe higher education leaders are doing a fair or poor job to ensure higher education is worth the time and money. 44% believe that higher education leaders are doing a fair to poor job to ensure that students graduate with the skills and knowledge they need for citizenship and career.
  • Six in 10 say colleges and universities “are increasingly becoming places of intolerance and political correctness.” The public is split 49% to 50% on whether higher education leaders—including boards of trustees—are doing a good job to ensure students are exposed to a multiplicity of perspectives from across the political spectrum.
  • 81% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that all students should “take basic classes in core subjects such as writing, literature, math, science, economics, U.S. history, and foreign language.”
  • Fully 71% of respondents believe the tenure system “contributes significantly to higher costs and lower education quality in American colleges and universities.”
  • Nearly three out of four respondents believe that boards should not allow their institutions to surrender to pressure to withdraw speaking invitations to controversial speakers.
  • 89% of respondents believe college is becoming out of reach for the middle class. Nearly three quarters do not believe that students get their money’s worth.

It is popular within some Ivy Halls to downplay the importance of independent governing boards in academia, but according to the GfK poll, the vast majority of American think that trustees play a critical role in shaping the direction of their institutions:

And whom do the American people want to take the lead in reforming higher education? Boards of trustees. An astounding 91% said it is the board’s responsibility to “take the lead in reforming higher education to lower costs and improve quality.”

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