Demand for higher education in the U.S. is as high as it will ever be. And there is a solid belief among Americans that our strongest brand abroad is U.S. higher education. This strong public opinion gives U.S. leaders a case to make higher education a bigger priority in the U.S. and around the globe.
Americans' demand for higher education is nearly universal. Ninety-seven percent of U.S. adults say it is important to have a certificate or degree beyond high school. And those who do not have a certificate or degree after high school agree that, if they did, they would feel more secure in their job (58%) and in their financial future (64%). But as tuition costs continue to soar, many Americans are starting to question the value of higher education. This is compounded by challenging economic times, resulting in flat and reduced budgets for higher education at both the federal and state level in many instances. From a broad view, the U.S. has been "de-investing" in higher education relative to the past. And that's a real shame given the incredible human and economic development platform that U.S. higher education offers.
In a new study, Gallup asked a nationally representative sample of more than 25,000 U.S. adults about their perceptions of how people in other countries view U.S. institutions. The results are illuminating. Thirty-five percent believe people in other countries have a "very positive" opinion about U.S. colleges and universities, with another 41% saying those living in other countries have a "somewhat positive" view of U.S. higher education. There wasn't even a close second place. Tied for second was U.S. businesses/economy and the U.S. president, each at 9% "very positive." The U.S. military came in fourth at 8%, and the U.S. government was last with just 2% of Americans believing people in other countries have a very positive opinion of it.
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Although these data do not prove others worldwide think highly of U.S. higher education, there is good reason to believe that's the case. Demand for U.S. higher education from students and families abroad is astounding, with U.S. institutions enrolling a record number of 886,052 international students in the 2013-2014 school year. In my view, much of the world looks to the U.S. as a model for higher education, and our best institutions always dominate any international rankings. Through research like Gallup's World Poll -- where we are scientifically surveying countries that represent a significant amount of the world's adult population -- it's certainly possible to explore the world's attitudes toward major U.S. institutions and determine whether U.S. higher education is viewed as positively as Americans believe it to be viewed abroad.
Public opinion in the U.S., at least, indicates there may be support for continued expansion of U.S. higher education offerings abroad. Whether that is establishing branches of U.S. higher education institutions in other countries (something that has happened frequently in the last decade), doing more to share U.S. higher education opportunities with the world through massive open online courses from U.S. institutions, or building university-based research efforts to support countries across the globe with environmental, economic or human development initiatives -- there are possibilities to explore.
In addition to the global opportunities for U.S. higher education, there continue to be ample opportunities to improve how it serves our own citizens. And through a groundbreaking new research collaboration with USA Funds, Gallup will be launching a daily poll of U.S. adults focused entirely on illuminating the voice of consumers in higher education -- through the lens of prospective, current and former students. This effort will aim to quantify the percentage of Americans who complete higher education with a purpose -- not just in obtaining a degree, but in ensuring it leads to better work and life outcomes. And importantly, it will help identify pathways for more Americans to make the most of the many postsecondary options that exist.
With strong demand for higher education in the U.S. and a solid belief that U.S. higher education is viewed positively worldwide, it is not a time to pull back our thinking or investment in this precious asset. Instead, it would be wise for U.S. leaders to leverage this support from the public through new and better initiatives to expand access, increase affordability and improve the quality of higher education.