Americans Value Postsecondary Education: The 2015 Gallup-Lumina Foundation Study of the American Public’s Opinion on Higher Education

By Jael Greene

Americans value postsecondary education and view it as essential to getting a good job, according to the 2015 Gallup-Lumina Foundation Study of the American Public’s Opinion on Higher Education. Among the topics broached by the study: the importance of postsecondary degrees and certificates, what types of programs should be considered “college” and whether postsecondary education is affordable to all who seek it.  

Among the poll’s findings:

  • Nearly 70% of Americans say postsecondary degrees or professional certificates are “very important” for adults to have, while only 6% say they are “not very important” or “not at all important” to have.
    • When asked how important having a postsecondary degree or certificate will be in the future, 70% of Americans reported that they believe having a degree or certificate will become more important over time, while 7% say it will be less important than it is currently.
  • When asked who is most responsible for increasing the percentage of Americans in postsecondary programs, an overwhelming majority reported that this responsibility lay in the hands of individuals (55%).
    • 11% chose colleges and universities
    • 11% chose the federal government
    • 8% chose state government
    • 5% chose the President of the United States
    • 4% chose local communities
    • 4% chose businesses
  • The poll presents four definitions of “college” and found that:
    • 69% of respondents defined college as a campus where students live and attend classes with the goal of getting a four-year degree (an increase from 51% in 2014).
    • 54% defined college as students working to earn a professional certificate to use in their workplace (an increase from 40% in 2014).
    • 38% defined college as students working to earn a two-year associate degree (an increase from 31% in 2014).
    • 26% defined college as an online learning environment where students log in to classes (an increase from 20% in 2014).
  • 59% of those polled believe that postsecondary education is available to anyone in the U.S. who needs it, while 41% do not believe postsecondary education is available to everyone.
  • Only 24% of those polled believe that postsecondary education is affordable to anyone who needs it, while 76% say it is not affordable for everyone.