Gallup: Americans report major confidence drop in higher education

October 9, 2018

Fewer than half of Americans — a mere 48 percent — have a “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, according to a new report on data from Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll. That’s down significantly from 2015, the last time Gallup asked Americans about their confidence in colleges and universities.

“No other institution has shown a larger drop in confidence over the past three years than higher education,” Gallup reports, citing polling data collected this summer.

Gallup also notes that opinions about higher education have grown more politicized than they were three years ago, with a significantly higher number of Republicans than Democrats reporting that they have lost faith in colleges and universities.

“The decline [in confidence] is most evident among Republicans, whose confidence level has fallen by 17 percentage points,” Gallup reports, “but Democrats and independents are also less confident now than they were three years ago.”

Gallup’s finding is consistent with other recent survey data showing increased politicization of opinions about higher education, including a FIRE survey showing partisan divides in attitudes toward invited quest speakers. A recent Pew Research Center study found that while a majority of Americans said higher education was “headed in the wrong direction,” significantly more Republicans than Democrats held that sentiment; Republicans and Democrats also sharply disagreed about the reasons behind their waning confidence.  (Notably, the Pew survey found rare, bipartisan support for the First Amendment’s right to free speech.)

The Gallup data suggests one way to improve overall confidence in higher education: Getting more people to pursue it.

“Americans with positive opinions of higher education, including both Republicans and Democrats, cite their own experiences at college as a reason for their confidence in it,” Gallup notes.

“Getting more Americans to pursue higher education, particularly if it leads to an engaging and stable career, is one way to help reverse the downward trend in higher-education confidence.”

When it comes to high levels of confidence in institutions overall, higher education ranks relatively well  — just below the military (74 percent), small business (67 percent), and the police (54 percent). The criminal justice system, big business, and television news round out institutions at the bottom of the confidence list. And just 11 percent of Americans report high levels of confidence in Congress, which ranked last.

Head over to Gallup’s website to read more about the survey.