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Half of Americans Think Higher Education Heads In ‘Wrong Direction’


Close to 52 percent of Americans think US higher education is headed in the “wrong direction,’’ according to a survey by private think tank Populace. Surprisingly, those surveyed didn’t list the coronavirus pandemic as the cause of their discontent. Instead, 67 percent of respondents cited universities putting their own interests ahead of students’ needs as the main reason.

Riddled with uncertainties in enrollments, medium of instruction in classes, visa regulations, operating budgets, and college life, the US higher education scenario was analyzed via responses in the survey.

Here are seven of the survey’s key takeaways.

Deeply Practical Higher Education Priorities

When making higher education decisions, Americans prioritize financial aspects, job prospects, and applied and practical instructions. They focus more on what education will bring them in the long-term, and decisions to enroll are less driven by the expectations of the educational experience itself.

Affordability: Most Important Factor

Americans’ decisions whether or not to enroll in college are mostly determined by financial considerations. Of the Americans that never attended university, 40 percent said they didn’t so because they couldn’t afford it.

“Tuition is affordable” was listed as the single most important priority for higher education. 

Americans Prefer Access over Selectivity 

Americans vouch for standard open enrollment into higher education institutions as opposed to test-based criteria for admission.

In simple terms, Americans prefer if anyone with a high school diploma or GED can enroll for higher education as opposed to admission on grounds of diversity, underserved backgrounds, or nationality

Skill Development

Skill development is a top priority for the college-bound and currently enrolled Americans, their parents, and college graduates alike. They emphasize on a diploma that endorses the skills that make them job-ready, preferred by employers and competitive globally.

Micro-credentials, accreditations, technical certifications, and licensures are among the non-degree pathways American students prefer to be employable and remain so. 

In-Person Class Experience 

The preference for in-person class experience over online instruction isn’t budging. American students prefer a college experience with real, hands-on experience over an online classroom experience.

Access to faculty mentors has also been perceived as important. 

Applied Versus Academic Learning

Americans prefer applied learning over academic instruction. Internships, on-the-job training, workshops, and lab-based classes over textbook credentials and notes.  

Parents and College Students Consistent Priorities 

The survey also surfaced a coincidence in what college-bound American students and their parents prioritize in terms of higher education. Close to six top priorities match exactly, showcasing a similar vein of thought between the two generations.

Americans and college students specifically prioritize practical considerations, such as applied learning, affordability, job prospects, training, and in-class instructions. The emphasis on higher education is not on personal enrichment alone.

The Populace survey received participation from 2,785 people. The respondents consisted of college-bound students, college-enrolled students, college graduates, and parents of college-enrolled students in America.

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