Sarah Khan, 20, of East Islip, a senior at Stony...

Sarah Khan, 20, of East Islip, a senior at Stony Brook University, said she worries that obtaining both a bachelor's and a master's degree still won't ensure graduates a high-paying job. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Jasmine Sellars and Nayden Villorente. It was written by Brodsky.

A growing percentage of Americans doubt the value of a college education, with many skeptics, predominantly Republicans, expressing concern that universities push liberal political agendas on students, according to a new Gallup Poll released Monday.

Only 36% of the 2,000 Americans surveyed said they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education — down from 57% in 2015.

Meanwhile an equal amount — 32% — said they have “some” confidence” or “little or no confidence” in higher education, according to the poll, conducted last month by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit focused on increasing college access.

The poll comes amid national debates about the cost of college tuition, limits on campus free speech and how to teach sensitive issues such as race and diversity.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A new Gallup Poll shows increasing skepticism about the value of higher education, with many citing liberal political ideologies taught on college campuses.
  • The poll showed that 32% of Americans have “little or no” confidence in higher education, up from 10% among those polled in 2015
  • Confidence in higher education declined most prominently among Republicans but also dropped by double digit percentage points among Independents and Democrats.

The 'wrong direction'

“The concern, especially on the Republican side, is about indoctrination and that there's too much political ideology happening out on campuses,” said Courtney Brown, vice president of impact and planning at the Lumina Foundation. “They're also concerned that the credentials that are being provided aren't aligned with what the labor market needs … And the third reason is affordability and the debt that people are incurring in order to get these degrees.”

Many of these concerns, Brown said, are not new. Federal statistics show an 8.5% undergraduate enrollment decline at U.S. universities since 2010.

While confidence levels in higher education declined most prominently among Republicans — a 36 percentage point drop since 2015 — the poll also showed a 13 point decrease among independents and a 12 point dip for Democrats.

In fact, confidence levels in higher education declined among all educational, racial, gender and age subgroups, the report found.

And the outlook for the future appears dim, with 68% of those polled saying American higher education is headed in the “wrong direction.”

Among those Americans who lack confidence in higher education, 41% cited colleges being “too liberal, “trying to “indoctrinate” or “brainwash” students, or not allowing students to be free thinkers.

“The results of today’s campus unrest are much like what occurred in the Vietnam War period when college students led the antigovernment policy protests: a general sense that liberal pampered youth need controlling,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a 40-year veteran political strategist based in Manhattan. “Poll tested reactions should be a warning to the left: they are losing their own. And rapidly.”

Aima Chaudhry, 21, of Centereach, a senior at Stony Brook University.

Aima Chaudhry, 21, of Centereach, a senior at Stony Brook University. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Aima Chaudhry, 21, of Centereach, a senior at Stony Brook University double majoring in health science and psychology, disagrees that colleges have become too political.

“The world revolves around all these issues,” Chaudhry said. “We should continually be learning about them. Even if it doesn't affect us directly, it does affect us in some way or form. So we should be more knowledgeable about it.”

Another 37% of those polled said universities are not teaching relevant skills; that degrees are not meaningful and graduates often cannot find employment. Cost concerns and high student debt levels, previously the biggest complaint about higher education, was mentioned by 28% of those polled.

Poor teaching quality, free speech concerns, unequal access to college and political unrest were other reasons cited in the poll, which did not specifically ask about recent campus protests concerning the war between Israel and Hamas.

'Losing faith'

In a statement, John B. King Jr., the chancellor of the State University of New York, pointed to the future earnings potential afforded by a college education. The average lifetime increase in earnings with a bachelor’s degree is $1.2 million, King said.

“SUNY offers so many ways to master a new skill and document that mastery in addition to traditional degrees, with microcredentials and certifications in everything from meat inspection to welding to information technology and business skills to home health care,” King said. 

Among the more than one-third of Americans polled who maintain high levels of confidence in higher education, most cite as reasons the value of a degree, including potential job opportunities that come from having one, and the training and skills learned in college.

A separate Gallup Poll released Monday showed higher levels of confidence in two-year institutions, with 49% expressing high levels of confidence in community colleges compared to 33% who share that opinion about four-year universities.

Americans, Brown said, still value the idea of a college diploma and understand it will help them earn higher salaries in the future.

“The problem is that people no longer have confidence that higher education system can deliver on that promise,” she said.

Sarah Khan, 20, of East Islip, a senior at Stony Brook, worries that obtaining both a bachelor's and a master's degree still won't ensure graduates a high-paying job.

“The standard just keeps rising. And the standard is harder for more and more people to afford,” Khan said Monday. “Which is why I think a lot of people are losing faith in it.”

Chitam Datt, 27, of Old Westbury, said he believes the collegiate experiences of Americans are “subjective” and that many graduates may be disappointed because “they did not receive what they were promised.”

“I got lucky because I got a very good program and economic adviser,” said Datt, a graduate of the New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study in Manhattan, adding that higher education can often limit students who work better in less structured educational environments.

Charles Benoit, 38, of Freeport, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the...

Charles Benoit, 38, of Freeport, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the Vaughn College of Aeronautics in Queens. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

But Maximilien Raymond, 20, of Brentwood, a senior at Hofstra University, said he has found his college experience valuable.

“I certainly think that my experience here has made my money's worth,” Raymond said, “because I definitely wouldn't have had any of these opportunities elsewhere.”

Charles Benoit, 38, of Freeport, who pursued a bachelor’s degree at the Vaughn College of Aeronautics in Queens, said he has “faith in education because it's really a steppingstone … I'm glad that I got the experience of having an education because it made me a better person today.”

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