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Higher Education Poll Highlights Difficulties of Degree Attainment

by Michael Higham, published

Higher Education Poll from Gallup Diploma, Graduation Cap, and Books /

Gallup and the Lumina Foundation collaborated to poll Americans' sentiments on higher education issues. There was near consensus on the importance of obtaining post-high school credentials. However, the poll revealed more about why people seek higher degrees, what restricts people from pursuing higher education, and how they feel about redesigning higher education systems. Tweet poll: Tweet

The poll indicated that 97 percent of respondents feel some form of higher education (a degree or certification) is important and necessary for financial security. More interestingly was how respondents without higher education backgrounds answered questions regarding future enrollment to earn a degree or professional certification. Tweet stat: Tweet

Of the respondents who only obtained a high school education, 41 percent have considered going back to school and 38 percent are likely to do so.

Not everyone has the means to return to the classroom. There were several barriers cited by respondents that hinder their opportunities. Although 74 percent believed that higher education was too costly, it wasn't the biggest obstacle  for those who wish to re-enroll. The cost of education turned out to the be second largest barrier (28 percent) behind familial obligations (36 percent). Tweet stat: Tweet

Credit: Lumina Foundation

Credit: Lumina Foundation

One solution that has been growing over time is the online classroom. The University of California system is currently considering online classes. While the motivation behind the move may not be to improve accessibility of a UC education, attending classes remotely can be a solution to the barriers of family and job responsibilities.

Respondents are the least fond of online courses when compared to traditional universities and community colleges. However, one-fourth of those polled either disagree or strongly disagree that online classes offer a high quality education. Tweet fact: Tweet

Another solution proposed in the poll was the offering of college credits for prior work experience. When asked the question of whether or not credit should be awarded for skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom, 87 percent of respondents showed support. Furthermore, 75 percent said that they would be more likely to return to college if work experience was converted into credit. Lumina concluded the following: (tweet stat: Tweet)

"[The data] suggests that higher education institutions could initiate community collaborations/partnerships to help facilitate certificate or degree completion for working Americans."

Both online classes and work experience credit can mitigate the financial pressures of higher education. The first would cost less to administer and the latter would reduce the number of classes needed to complete the degree process. Tuition costs are still an issue and those surveyed responded with the following on solutions for financial assistance:

Credit: Lumina Foundation

Credit: Lumina Foundation

The federal government offers financial aid through its FAFSA system. In the 2007-2008 school year, the average college undergraduate received $6,600 of federal financial aid for that year. The federal government spent $20 billion on higher education in FY2012, but only accounted for 0.6 percent of its total spending. Seventy-four percent of respondents believe that the federal government should play a bigger role in providing assistance. Tweet at FAFSA: Tweet

Advanced and better paying jobs, notably in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), continue to grow. However, Americans who are already in the workforce are having trouble accessing the education necessary to obtain those better, higher-wage jobs. While the higher education poll crunched numbers of American sentiments, it highlighted the fact that steps should be made to improve access for a non-traditional student.

Direct financial assistance is not the only solution; accounting for relevant work experience and tailored course design could help foster an educated workforce

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