Two-thirds of Americans Rate College Programs as Excellent or Good

This is the time of year that students begin returning to college campuses around the country. There are many different types of colleges and universities to choose from, but are there different perceptions of the education one receives at these schools? First, looking at academic programs versus career and occupational programs, there isn’t much of a difference. Two-thirds of Americans say academic programs (68%) and career and occupational programs (67%) at 2 or 4 year colleges do an excellent or pretty good job of educating their students.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,183 adults surveyed online between July 11 and 18, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

Looking at the different types of colleges and universities, over half of Americans (52%) have a positive opinion of public colleges or universities, one-third (36%) have neither a positive nor negative opinion and 12% have a negative opinion of them. Just under half of U.S. adults (48%) have a positive opinion of private, not-for-profit colleges or universities while more than two in five (44%) have neither a positive nor negative opinion and just 8% have a negative opinion of them. Opinions of private, for-profit colleges or universities are the most divided as two in five Americans (44%) have neither a positive nor negative opinion of them, just over one-third (35%) have a positive opinion and one in five (21%) have a negative opinion.

Perceptions of colleges and universities
There has been a lot of media attention recently regarding for-profit universities and opinions of them are a little mixed. Over half of Americans (57%) agree that for-profit colleges/universities do not care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition. But, at the same time, a similar number (55%) agree that for-profit colleges/universities serve an important need by providing higher education to non-traditional students while just one in five disagree (22%); one-quarter (23%) say they are not at all sure. Also, two in five U.S. adults (40%) believe for-profit colleges and universities are more innovative than public or not-for-profit ones, but one-third (35%) do not agree and one-quarter (25%) are not at all sure.

When it comes to whether public and not-for-profit colleges/universities care about tuition or students, Americans are divided. Two in five (42%) agree that these schools do not care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition while almost the same number (41%) disagree.

While Americans normally are not in favor, as a rule, of more government regulation, a majority (51%) agree that the government should regulate college programs to help make sure that graduates can get jobs and repay college loans.

So What?
As a majority of Americans say, for-profit universities serve an important need, but, at the same time, are something new and different to the educational system. This can be seen in the large number of U.S. adults who say they are not sure about these schools which means there is still a learning curve these colleges and universities have to climb. And, because of this sense of the unknown, what Americans may learn about the schools is what they see in the media regarding the federal government’s scrutiny of them. The schools need to be proactive in pushing the message of the important need they fulfill to help counter this.

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