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Young Adults Realize Importance of College, But Balk at Costs

A survey out today of young people ages 18 to 34 shows they embrace the value of a college education, but are frustrated with the rising cost of tuition and increased debt they take on to afford it.

The nationwide, bipartisan survey was commissioned by the The Institute for College Access and Success, Demos and Young Invincibles, three national policy organizations.

Young people agree (79 percent) that a college education and training are more important today than they were when their parents were growing up. Yet, 76 percent feel college has become harder to afford in the past five years, and 73 percent of graduates acknowledge they have more student debt than they can manage.

Last week, a report by TICAS' Project on Student Debt found that two-thirds of the class of 2010 graduated with student loans and an average debt of $25,250.

Not surprising, the new survey reveals broad support among this generation for federal student financial aid. Seventy-five percent do not want to see Pell Grants cut, and 73 percent oppose charging students with financial need interest on their federal loans before they graduate.

In a companion poll released by Demos and Young Invincibles last week, 84 percent of young people say making college and other education and training after high school more affordable should be priorities for Congress. More than 68 percent of young adults say college affordability should be Congress' top priority, and 88 percent believe making college and training more affordable is a way to strengthen the economy.

The survey found consistent views and concerns on college value and affordability regardless of respondents' race/ethnicity, education level, gender, or political party affiliation.

Young people remain optimistic, with 69 percent of those surveyed saying that they could achieve the "American dream." However, among those who didn't feel that way, most believed college was harder to afford—demonstrating a link between pessimism and the perception that college was out of financial reach.

The additional loan burden that students are taking on comes at a time when earnings are stagnant, noted Tamara Draut, vice president of policy and programs with Demos, in a press call this afternoon. This makes it difficult for students starting out to save for a home, their children's education, and retirement.

"College has become much more expensive at a time when this generation realizes they need some kind of college to get ahead," she says. President Obama's goal of 60 percent of Americans receiving postsecondary training by 2020, is "unattainable" if the country continues to cut funding for higher education and raise costs, says Draut.

Lauren Asher, president of TICAS, says the survey findings underscore the interest of young people in pursuing college, but also illustrates the challenges that they are looking to policymakers to address. "There is a strong message that college needs to stay within reach and a fear that it is not," she says.

Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting conducted the nationwide survey released today of 872 adults from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4, 2011. The margin of error is 3.32 percentage points.

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