Americans skeptical of colleges’ priorities

A recent study revealed new information about the public’s satisfaction with college education.

Andrea Schug

A recent study found a large percentage of Americans are growing skeptical about collegesâÄô motives. The Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that six in 10 Americans think colleges are more concerned with the bottom line and their own agendas than with ensuring studentsâÄô education. This percentage rose from 55 percent in 2008. The nationwide survey was released Thursday and reached 1,031 adults. Both organizations have been asking the public questions about their satisfaction with college education since 1993. âÄúThere is an increasing frustration with large universities, and the University of Minnesota is not immune to this,âÄù said Dan Wolter, University News Service director. Jon Rochkind, research director at Public Agenda, said that in general, the results were not surprising because of recent economic trends, but the increase of people thinking colleges are more concerned with the bottom line is a sure sign of skepticism. âÄúItâÄôs important to us what the public thinks about issues being debated that are usually only commented on by officials,âÄù Rochkind said. Wolter said he believes a big reason why people think the bottom line is more important to colleges is because of the struggles colleges have had with funding. âÄúThis is the first year in our history where we will get more of our budget from tuition dollars than from the state budget, which is a big challenge for us,âÄù Wolter said. Of those surveyed, 65 percent said higher education costs are rising at a faster rate than other things in the economy. âÄúCollege presidents and leaders want the public to trust them,âÄù Rochkind said. âÄúWhen parents and young adults are trying to decide where to go, what college to chose, IâÄôm sure trust factors into where they want to put their money.âÄù Paul Strain, biochemistry junior and president of the Minnesota Student Association, said dissatisfaction with the UniversityâÄôs priorities could be pinned to financial struggles. âÄúThe more time you spend in undergrad instead of pursuing the workforce, your ability to make money is being affected,âÄù Strain said. âÄúThe longer you stay in school, the more expensive it becomes for others, and the harder it is for other students to get in.âÄù Environmental sciences, policy and management senior Megan Hines, who also serves as a student representative on the Board of Regents, said that despite financial concerns, she has found her experience at the University to be extremely beneficial and hasnâÄôt felt pressured by the University to graduate before she is ready. âÄúI think the University in general is very supportive of our education and in getting students out as fast or slow as they want to get out,âÄù Hines said. Student satisfaction has been a priority for decades, and a lot of work has gone into improving the student experience, Wolter said.