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Americans See College as Important, But Too Costly

A new national survey finds most Americans recognize higher education is necessary for getting ahead, but many question its value and find the cost is often a significant barrier.

Seventy percent of Amer­i­cans believe higher edu­ca­tion is "extremely" or "very" impor­tant to achieving the Amer­ican Dream, according to the poll of about 1,250 adults interviewed by phone and online in October by FTI Consulting for Northeastern University in Boston.

But the increasing cost of college is prompting many to look carefully at the value of the investment. Just 39 per­cent rate the U.S. higher edu­ca­tion system as pro­viding an "excel­lent" or "good" value for the money, and 60 per­cent say its value is "fair" or "poor."

When asked about what keeps Americans from getting a college degree, 86 percent responded that paying for college was the biggest hurdle. Other responses included difficulty balancing work and family, lack of information, difficulty navigating financial aid, and too little time.

Nearly 64 per­cent of adults under 30 polled indicated con­cerns about col­lege costs caused a close friend or family member to post­pone or forego attending college.

Assessing the big picture, 51 per­cent says the state of higher edu­ca­tion in America is "excel­lent" or "good," while 46 per­cent con­sider it "fair" or "poor," according to the Northeastern poll.

The survey results released this week also show that 83 percent feel higher edu­ca­tion should inno­vate if the United States is to main­tain its global lead­er­ship. In particular, the respondents mentioned the need for more flex­i­bility, online/​hybrid edu­ca­tion options and oppor­tu­ni­ties for expe­ri­en­tial learning, entre­pre­neur­ship, and global expe­ri­ences in college.

Younger respondents embrace online learning more than their older peers, according to the poll results. While 61 percent of respondents under age 30 say an online degree provides a similar quality of education to a traditional degree, 49 percent of all those polled felt that way. Also, 68 per­cent of younger adults and 53 percent of respondents as a whole say an online degree in the next five to seven years will be just as rec­og­nized and accepted among employers as a tra­di­tional degree.

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