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Survey finds 4 in 10 Americans believe college is a good value

Americans believe that higher education is imperative for a successful future, but they believe that the US higher education system is providing poor value for the cost, a Northeastern University survey has found.

Seven in 10 Americans believe higher education is “extremely” or “very” important to achieving the American dream, according to the survey.

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But at the same time, only 39 percent said the system was providing “excellent” or “good” value for the money, with the remainder saying the value was “fair” or “poor.”

The findings came from a survey sponsored by Northeastern in October that included 1,001 telephone interviews with American adults nationwide, and an online survey of an additional 250 young adults.

“In order for us to keep in tune with the world, we have to understand what the world is saying, what it needs,” said Northeastern President Joseph Aoun. “The public at large holds high the American Dream. Higher education helps them to move up and build their life, build their careers.”

The survey found that 83 percent believed that in order to stay competitive with countries around the world, changes in the system were needed. Additionally, two in three saw funding cuts to public universities as one reason the country’s standing as a global leader in higher education has dropped.

Universities need to implement more creative ways to educate students, like hybrid courses, which are a mix of online and traditional classroom learning, 87 percent of the young adults said. Sixty-eight percent of the young adults also said an online degree would be of equal value and accepted amongst employers as a traditional degree within the next five to seven years.

But in an indication that there is a generational divide over online programs, only 53 percent of all respondents said an online degree would soon be equally accepted as a traditional degree.

“There’s an idea that higher education is conservative, or that it’s not changing,” Aoun said. “But we have a higher education system that’s very diverse, and we’re seeing that this culture is evolving extremely rapidly.”

A majority of all respondents felt that paying for college was the largest obstacle when it came to obtaining a degree, the survey said. About half of all those surveyed said financial concerns caused themselves, a close friend, or family member to postpone or forgo attending college altogether. Still, 83 percent of those who attended college considered it a good investment.

About 72 percent of the young adults said they would have exchanged a few years working in public service for a reduced tuition.

And 73 percent of the young adults said a “no-frills” option should be explored, meaning that students could be given access to classes, courses, and faculty but not extra amenities like residence halls or athletic facilities — for a reduced cost.

“They are expecting higher education to give them access to jobs,” Aoun said. “We must integrate the world experience with the classroom experience. Their education must allow them to go out and compete in the world.”

The survey was conducted by FTI Consulting for the university. The telephone portion was conducted Oct. 13 to Oct. 18, while the Internet poll of young adults, aged 18 to 30, was conducted Oct. 16 to Oct. 19. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, the university said.

Sarah N. Mattero can be reached at sarah.mattero@globe.com.
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