The Value of College

These interactive charts explore the attitudes of the public and of college presidents about the value, cost, quality, mission and payoff of higher education.

Cost and Value

A declining share of Americans agree that a college education is affordable

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: College costs in general are such that most people are able to afford to pay for a college education. (Asked of general public)

Chart illustrating A declining share of Americans agree that a college education is affordable

Only 40% feel that the value for the money spent on higher education is excellent or good…

How would you rate the job the higher education system in this country is doing in terms of providing VALUE for the money spent by students and their families? (Asked of general public)

Chart illustrating Only 40% feel that the value for the money spent on higher education is excellent or good…

…but most (86%) college graduates feel their education was a good investment for them.

What about your own experience? Thinking about what you or your family paid for your college education, would you say that college for you HAS been a good investment, has NOT been a good investment, or are you not sure? (Asked of college graduates)

Chart illustrating …but most (86%) college graduates feel their education was a good investment for them.

About half the public says students or their families should pay the largest share of college costs…

In general, who should pay the largest share of a student's college expenses, including tuition and room and board? Should it be… (Asked of general public)

Chart illustrating About half the public says students or their families should pay the largest share of college costs…

More than six-in-ten college presidents agree.

In general, who should pay the largest share of a student's college expenses, including tuition and room and board (if applicable) at institutions like yours? (Asked of college presidents)

Chart illustrating More than six-in-ten college presidents agree.

Having to pay back a student loan has an impact on a person's financial life.

Has having to pay back your student loans affected you in any of the following ways, or not? (Asked of those who took out student loans, percent that answered "yes")

Chart illustrating Having to pay back a student loan has an impact on a person's financial life.

People who don't finish college cite economic factors.

Here are some reasons why people postpone or do not continue their education. For each one, please tell me whether it applies to you or not. (Asked of those under age 35 who do not have a bachelors degree and are not currently enrolled in school)

Chart illustrating People who don't finish college cite economic factors.

Most of those WITHOUT a college degree think they would be earning more money if they had one.

Just your best guess, if you had a college degree, how much MORE money, if any, do you think you would earn each year? Would you say… (Asked of people without college degrees)

Chart illustrating Most of those WITHOUT a college degree think they would be earning more money if they had one.

Most of those WITH a college degree think they would be earning less if they didn't have one.

Just your best guess, if you did NOT have a college degree, how much LESS money, if any, do you think you would earn each year? Would you say… (Asked of people with college degrees)

Chart illustrating Most of those WITH a college degree think they would be earning less if they didn't have one.

Mission and Quality

The public has a split view about the main purpose of college.

Still thinking about college, which comes closer to your view, even if neither is exactly right. The main purpose of college should be… (Asked of general public)

Most college graduates believe that their education has been very useful in preparing them for life…

How useful was your college education in… Would you say very useful, fairly useful, not too useful, or not useful at all? (Asked of college graduates, percent that answered "very useful")

…but most Americans believe that success in life comes mainly from character traits, not a college degree.

Would you say this is extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not too important in helping a young person succeed in the world today? (Asked of general public, percent that answered "extremely important")

Most college presidents think the US higher education system is generally going in the right direction, but nearly four-in-ten disagree.

Thinking about the higher education system overall in the United States today, do you think it is generally going in the right direction or the wrong direction? (Asked of college presidents)

Just one-in-five college presidents think the US higher education system today is the best in the world…

Compared with the rest of the world, how would you rate the quality of the higher education system in the United States today? Do you think it is…? (Asked of college presidents)

…and less than one-in-ten think the US higher education system will be the best in the world 10 years from now.

Thinking ahead 10 years from now, do you think the higher education system in the United States will be…? (Asked of college presidents)

Six-in-ten college presidents think that public high schools are less effective now than 10 years ago at preparing students for college.

Compared with 10 years ago, how would you rate the job public high schools in this country are doing today preparing students for college? (Asked of college presidents)

Half of college presidents believe that college students study less now than their counterparts did 10 years ago.

Compared with college students 10 years ago, how would you characterize the amount of studying college students do these days? Would you say that college students today study…? (Asked of college presidents)

Most college presidents think that their faculty grades students appropriately, but about one-in-four says the grading is too easy.

Overall, do you think the faculty at your institution grade the students…? (Asked of college presidents)

Pew Research Center

Report: Is College Worth It?