Americans Link Higher Ed to Global Competitiveness; Strongly Support Career Education

A survey released today, commissioned by the Career College Association and conducted by Harris Interactive(R), finds the American public sees a clear link between higher education and global workforce competitiveness and strongly supports alternative approaches to postsecondary education. The survey also finds strong support for a decision to attend a career college.

Among the top line findings:

  • Nearly nine out of ten U.S. adults (89 percent) say they see value in a decision to enroll in a career college;
  • Two of three adults (67 percent) agree with the idea that in order for the U.S. to be competitive in the global marketplace, every American needs at least one year of college education;
  • In pursuing this postsecondary education, 86 percent of adults agree with the need to consider alternatives to a traditional four-year college degree;
  • In terms of what form this education should take, 84 percent of adults believe that for some Americans this education should focus on careers rather than more academic pursuits like social science or humanities.
  • According to CCA President and CEO Harris N. Miller: "We are extremely pleased to receive this strong validation of our sector, especially because it comes from the most important constituency of all: the American public. This study shows Americans have ‘crossed the Rubicon’ in their thinking when it comes to valuing purposeful higher education delivered in a practical way. We hope those who influence, shape and implement higher education policy will do the same. "

The new survey provides a variety of fresh insights into the attitudes of the public towards the idea of postsecondary education for all Americans and alternative approaches for achieving this goal. For instance, younger people and, in particular, young women seem to share the goal of at least one year of higher education more strongly than older adults. Nearly eight of ten women in the 18-34 age group (79 percent) agree that in order for the U.S. to be competitive in the global marketplace, every American needs at least one year of college education, compared to only 64 percent of women age 55 or older.

Other key findings:
Awareness of Higher Education Alternatives
The survey found that Americans are acquainted with non-traditional postsecondary approaches. Most (60 percent) have attended or are planning to attend a non-traditional college or university or know of someone who has or is planning to.

More than one in five (22%) have either attended or plan to attend such an institution. The move towards non-traditional approaches is more keenly felt by the young, with 67 percent of those age 18-34 indicating that they are either attending, plan to attend or know someone attending or planning to attend this type of school, compared to only 52 percent of those 55 or older. Three out of four current students say they either attend or are planning to attend or know someone who attends or is planning to attend a non-traditional college or university.

A Willingness to Consider Alternative Approaches
While the overwhelming majority of adults indicate the need to consider alternatives to traditional four-year colleges and universities, the proportion of those indicating that they "strongly agree" with this view is substantially greater than those who "strongly disagree" (28 percent versus 4 percent).

Practical experience may help shape this view. Those with some college education (90 percent) are more likely to agree that alternative postsecondary approaches should be considered than those with a high school education or less (81 percent).

"Traditional higher education is extremely important in shaping the national character and nothing in this survey diminishes its critical role in society," said Miller. "It’s no coincidence, however, that private not-for-profit colleges and universities are seeing the higher education landscape shifting quickly. Americans view college as less of a privilege and more of a basic economic necessity. The bottom line: people are more than willing to consider alternative approaches to traditional colleges and universities."

Americans Connect Education and Careers
The public believes higher education for some Americans should be career-focused as opposed to focused on academic topics. One of four adults (26 percent) say they strongly agree with this, while only three percent say they strongly disagree.

This thinking may be influenced by age, with 89 percent of older adults (those 55 years of age or older) agreeing with the need to make postsecondary education career focused, compared to only 79 percent of younger adults (those 18 to 34). Retirees are most likely to hold this view (92 percent), while current students are least likely to do so (74 percent). Interestingly, those with more education and higher household incomes are more likely to see the value of career-focused education as an alternative for some Americans. Twice as many college graduates (35 percent) strongly agree with this opinion as compared to those with a high school diploma or less (17 percent). Nearly one out of three adults (32 percent) in households with incomes of $75,000 or higher strongly agree with getting a career-focused education, while only 22 percent of those with household incomes of less than $35,000 feel the same.

"What’s Important" Emphasizes Practical Considerations
Higher education attributes such as low tuition, schedule and class flexibility, immersive hands-on education, student services and job placement rate trump values like institutional reputation, competitive admissions and tenured faculty in the public’s assessment of what is important in obtaining a higher education.

Seventy-six percent of adults identify "low tuition cost" as important, as do 67 percent for "schedule and class flexibility," 64 percent for "immersive hands-on education and training in a chosen field of study," and 61 percent for "job placement" and "student support services." Only 38 percent of adults identify "school reputation" as important, while 21 percent say the same of "competitiveness of admissions process" and 13 percent of "tenured faculty."

"Career colleges excel in factors such as flexibility, program richness, job placement assistance and student support services, making them the best value for many students," said Miller. "And while the ‘sticker price’ may be higher than some other alternatives, when you factor in speed to degree and completion rates, they may be less costly for many. Americans value the factors that characterize the career college experience, including career assistance, student support services, and internships."

Americans Value Career College
Perhaps placing importance on values such as flexibility and hands-on education explains why Americans overwhelmingly see value in career colleges.

Nearly nine out of ten adults (89 percent) say they see value in a decision to attend a career college, and this viewpoint is shared in the survey across region, age, gender and marital status.

"We are extremely gratified that 94 percent of America’s current college graduates said they see the value of career college," Miller said. "I can’t think of a stronger message of support for our sector. It also suggests that those who have been to traditional schools understand the need to consider and value other approaches for reaching the nation’s higher education and workforce competitiveness goals."

Harris Interactive(R) fielded the study on behalf of Career College Association from September 14-16, 2009 via its QuickQuerySM online omnibus service, interviewing a nationwide sample of 2,022 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older. Data were weighted using propensity score weighting to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity, and propensity to be online. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.

The Career College Association (CCA) is a voluntary membership organization of accredited, private postsecondary schools, institutes, colleges and universities that provide career-specific educational programs. CCA has more than 1,600 members that educate and support over one million students each year for employment in over 200 occupational fields. CCA member institutions provide the full range of higher education programs: masters and doctoral degree programs, two- and four-year associate and baccalaureate degree programs, and short-term certificate and diploma programs. Visit CCA at

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