Higher Education & Political Views: There’s More Common Ground Than You May Think

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say the higher education system in the United States is going in the wrong direction, according to a new 2018 Pew Research Center survey. Political party affiliation seems to have an impact on their perceptions in many respects, but not in all. Here are some highlights:

How we think about politics shapes how we feel about higher education. 

  • Nearly 3/4 of those with conservative views believe that higher education is headed in the wrong direction:
    • Republican leaning: 73%
    • Democrat leaning: 52%
  • There’s a big difference in the viewpoints regarding faculty influence: Professors are bringing their political and social views into the classroom, and it’s having a negative impact on higher education.
    • Republican leaning: 79%
    • Democrat leaning: 17%
  • Conservatives think there’s too much emphasis on being politically correct: Colleges and universities are too concerned about protecting students from viewpoints they might find offensive.
    • Republican learning: 79%
    • Democrat leaning: 31%

 

Our age influences how we view higher education faculty. 

Regardless of their political affiliation, more older Americans place blame at the feet of faculty for problems in higher education. However, those who are more Republican-leaning feel more strongly than their counterparts:

  • 65+ years (Republicans 96%, Democrats 32%)
  • 50-64 years (Republicans 85%, Democrats 15%)
  • 35-49 years (Republicans 73%, Democrats 10%)
  • 18-34 years (Republicans 58%, Democrats 19%)

 

Most agree that higher education needs to do a better job of preparing graduates for the workforce. 

  • Regardless of our political party affiliation, Americans recognize the importance of a well-rounded education that includes career readiness: Students aren’t getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. 
    • Democrat learning: 73%
    • Republican leaning: 56

 

We all agree on one thing: Going to college costs too much. 

  • There’s lots of common ground when it comes to affordability: Higher education tuition costs are too high.
    • Democrat learning: 92%
    • Republican leaning: 77%

 

So what does all this mean? 

Most would agree that the United States has some of the best colleges and universities anywhere in the world. Students from all around the world come to the US to attend our institutions because they want the benefit of an American education. However, despite all the positives we can place in the “plus” column, we know we can do a better job in providing exceptional learning experiences. Specifically:

  • We’ve got to find a way to reduce costs. Yes, there are some expenses that just keep rising, such as the cost of healthcare, utilities, or construction. However, there are areas where costs could be reduced, such as offering students the option of purchasing digital textbooks rather than hard copies, or groups of colleges partnering up to gain more negotiating leverage with publishers. We can also look at innovative ways to cut or freeze tuition and expand work study programs. Paid internships sponsored by workforce partners would be of tremendous value in making college more affordable.
  • Once they’re enrolled, the focus should be on helping students succeed. Colleges and universities should be truly committed to partnering with each student they admit–perhaps even to the point of a memorandum of understanding or part of the acceptance process–to support that learner’s success. Institutions should embrace the WIT model–Whatever It Takes–to help each student thrive and graduate. Students are achieving their goals in a timely way without incurring a lifetime of student loan debt. When that happens, college retention, graduation, and satisfaction rates all increase, which keeps accreditors happy. It’s a win-win for all concerned.
  • A well-rounded education includes workforce development. We must continue to provide a high-quality liberal arts education in our colleges and universities. However, there’s also a real need to connect theory and application so when a learner graduates, they should be workforce ready–meaning they should have received a broad preparation in a variety of subjects; they should have developed important communication, critical thinking and problem solving skills; and they should have had multiple structured opportunities to apply what they were learning in the context of their chosen profession.

 

So, let’s agree to work together on this. 

While it’s certainly true that politics can influence how we view higher education, it’s also true that there are actually many areas where we can agree. Let’s start there. Let’s work together to strengthen our higher education system through reducing costs, supporting student success, and ensuring graduates are workforce-ready.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and virtual teaching & learning. Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, & on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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