Editor's Note: The research below was conducted in partnership between the Lumina Foundation and Gallup.
About a third of U.S. adults who have not completed a postsecondary degree believe higher education is available to most Americans who want it. In the 2022 State of Higher Education Study conducted by Lumina Foundation, Gallup found just 9% of noncollege Americans believe quality, affordable higher education is available to all Americans who want it, and another 21% believe it is available to most. More than two-thirds (71%) of respondents believe no more than half of Americans have access to quality education beyond high school.
Perceived availability of higher education is similar among current and prospective students, suggesting that even those obtaining a postsecondary credential doubt its widespread availability. Just 9% of students enrolled in associate degree, bachelor's degree or certificate programs believe quality, affordable postsecondary education is available to all those who want it, the same percentage as for those who are not currently enrolled in these programs. A quarter of currently enrolled students report these opportunities are available to most, compared with 20% among those who are not currently pursuing a degree or certification.
Results for the 2022 Lumina-Gallup State of Higher Education Study are based on web surveys conducted Oct. 19, 2021, to Nov. 22, 2021, with a nonprobability sample of U.S. adults aged 18-59 who had a high school diploma or degree but had not yet completed an associate or bachelor's degree. Read more about this research.
Although most U.S. adults do not believe higher education is widely available, 44% of adults say a two- or four-year degree is now more important in securing a successful career than it was 20 years ago. Another 36% say it is just as important, while 20% believe it is less important.
Currently enrolled students -- many of whom may be pursuing their own degree or certificate for career-related reasons -- are more likely than their unenrolled peers to report that a degree is more important today than it was 20 years ago.
More than half (57%) of currently enrolled students report a two- or four-year degree is more important to having a successful career than it was 20 years ago, and about a third (31%) believe it is equally important. In contrast, 42% of adults not currently enrolled in a postsecondary program report that a two- or four-year degree is more important today, and 37% believe it is equally important, confirming that many Americans who are not pursuing a degree still see value in postsecondary credentials.
Amid pandemic-induced disruptions to higher education and subsequent declines in enrollment, some Americans appear to be questioning the perceived value and attractiveness of higher education. The Lumina Foundation-Gallup 2022 State of Higher Education Study reveals that most adults without a postsecondary credential doubt the widescale availability of higher education, a perhaps unsurprising finding in light of the 169% increase in the cost of college since 1980. Still, a plurality of these Americans believe higher education is a more important stepping-stone to a successful career than it has been in recent decades, providing hope for policymakers and higher education leaders as they continue to explore new approaches to making higher education affordable and accessible to all who want it.
Read more about results from the most recent Lumina-Gallup 2022 State of Higher Education Study.