WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new poll shows an increasing number of Americans believe a college degree isn’t work the cost, including a majority of young adults, men and rural residents.
The Wall Street Journal/ NBC News survey of about 1,200 people, conducted Aug. 5-9, shows just 49 percent of Americans now believe a four-year degree will lead to a better job and higher pay than those without the credential. A total of 47 percent of Americans now think four-year college degrees are overrated.
The two-point spread, according to the WSJ, was 13 percentage points just four years ago.
“The shift was almost entirely due to growing skepticism among Americans without four-year degrees – those who never enrolled in college, who took only some classes or who earned a two-year degree,” the WSJ reports. “Four years ago, that group used to split almost evenly on the question of whether college was worth the cost. Now, skeptics outnumber believers by a double-digit margin.”
The opinions of those with a college degree, meanwhile, have remained roughly the same, with 63 percent who believe a bachelor’s degree with worth the expense, and 31 percent who disagree.
Jeff McKenna, a 32-year-old mechanic from Colorado, told the WSJ training at a trade school lead to a $50,000 job, while his classmates who went to college haven’t been as fortunate.
“I have friends from high school that are making half what I’m making, and they went and got a four-year degree or better, and they’re still $50-, $60-, $70,000 in debt,” he said. “There’s a huge need for skilled labor in this country.”
Many men, those 18-34, and folks with less than a college degree seem to share his opinion.
More than 50 percent of men polled in 2013 believed college was worth the cost, but that figure dropped to just over 40 percent in the recent survey. Among those 18-34, the shift was even more dramatic – from about 55 percent to less than 40 percent.
For those who do not have a college degree, just under half agreed it was worth the cost in 2013, compared to about 40 percent in the recent WSJ survey.
EducationWeek points out the news site isn’t the first to discover the trend.
“Other recent polls have found big divides in people’s views of the value of higher education. A study by the Pew Research Center in July found negative views toward higher education among most Republicans, and positive views among most Democrats,” the site reports.
“In a 2016 survey, Public Agenda found Americans increasingly believe that good jobs don’t necessarily require college degrees.”
NBC News broke down the data to highlight which groups are skeptical about the value of higher education, and which groups think it’s still a good deal.
Skeptics – those with less than 50 percent support – include the white working class, rural residents, those with some college, 18-34 year olds, Trump voters, those with a high school education or less, men, Republicans, and white folks in general.
Believers – or those with more than 50 percent support – include Democrats, urban residents, women, independents, suburban folks, non-whites, seniors, high income earners, Clinton voters, and those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The situation is forcing large universities like Michigan State, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Florida to beef up their marketing and recruiting efforts, the WSJ reports.
“We’re aware of the various polls that show this decline in confidence. It’s happening across a wide variety of institutions,” Heather Swain, MSU’s VP for communications and brand strategy, told the news site. “One of the things we’re doing is to try and make sure people understand the value of the university in different ways.”
Others, like University of Florida Prevost Joseph Glover, think the growing disinterest in higher education is fueled mostly by people who’ve never been to college and aren’t smart enough to appreciate what higher education has to offer.
“I think this is happening because there is a disconnect between the group of Americans who go to university and acquire an appreciation of life-long learning and another group of people who never get access and never really understand the benefits a university brings to society at large,” he said.