Until this most recent survey, the percentage of Americans who thought college education is necessary to succeed in the workforce was increasing.
“It may be that people perceive job opportunities as limited,” said David Schleifer, a senior research associate at Public Agenda. “They see student loans as too high, and therefore are somewhat questioning of the necessity of a degree.”
Only 42 percent of Americans agree that college is necessary for career success — a 13 percent drop from 2009, the last time the survey was conducted.
Schleifer said this research is crucial because of the governmental effort that goes into making college more accessible.
“I think that there is kind of a larger context of experts and leaders and policymakers really making increased college graduation rates a priority and so I just think that, to me, that’s important context for these findings,” Schleifer said. “There’s real money going into this.”
According to a report on job growth and creation from Georgetown University, 65 percent of all jobs in America will require postsecondary education after high school by 2020.
David Rice, executive director of Higher Education Works, said the increasing cost of a college education may be behind this shift in attitude.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the decade after the 2003-2004 school year, the cost of undergraduate tuition, fees and room and board at public institutions rose by 34 percent, and at private nonprofit institutions by 25 percent.
“I think that (people) think it’s not worth the price they would have to pay to obtain it,” said Jenna Robinson, president of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. “I think people still realize that there is something to be gained from college, but it’s not necessarily as much as you would pay in time and in money to go to college.”
Rice said the real discrepancy lies in income rates, which have been relatively stagnant since the 2008 recession.
“At the same time tuition was rising, and you’re seeing people with level-at-best incomes seeing a price tag go up, and so, yes, they’re going to ask more questions about that,” he said.
Despite these results, Rice is hopeful about the future of college education.
“It’s worrisome, but there’s also plenty of research, just manifold forms of research, that indicate that a college education is worth the price and worth the debt,” he said.
Ultimately, the question of higher education depends on the individual and their situation.
“I think there are a lot of different pathways to preparing yourself for life and preparing yourself for a career,” Robinson said.
“The four-year college route doesn’t necessarily have to be for everybody. I think it’s very good for young people to consider both costs and benefits.”