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Most Americans Support College, But Partisan Divide Exists

Ask Americans if they think colleges and universities are a good thing for the country, and most agree. But, as with many issues today, there is a partisan divide: Republicans are more skeptical of the impact of higher education than Democrats.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted in early February found 60 percent of adults said that colleges have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country and just 26 percent felt they have a negative effect. Among conservative Republicans, however, 46 percent said they have a positive impact and 39 percent they have a negative effect. Democrats were much more supportive: 67 percent vs. 20 percent and independents 61 percent positive to 26 percent negative.

This snapshot of conservative doubts over higher education comes on the heels of Rick Santorum's remarks last week, claiming the college-for-all agenda of the administration was snobbish and campuses were pushing a politically correct left doctrine. (Over the weekend, the Republican presidential hopeful backed off his comments somewhat, telling CNN he had regretted using the word "snob" and saying he supported the opportunity to go to college but not the notion that everybody should get a degree.)

In a March 2011 survey by Pew, the political differences are not apparent among respondents who actually graduated from college. The poll found 85 percent of conservative Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats, and 85 percent of Independents said that college had been a good investment for them personally. But conservative Republicans were more apt to say that the main purpose of college should be to teach specific skills and knowledge that can be used in the workplace, while more Democrats polled felt its purpose should be to help an individual grow personally and intellectually.

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