- 84% of fragile community residents see importance of higher education
- More minorities than whites say college education is "very important"
- 29% of residents say an affordable college education is accessible nearby
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Increasing costs of higher education -- and corresponding debt loads -- have not blunted the value placed on postsecondary education. More than six in 10 residents (62%) in America's fragile communities -- defined as areas with concentrated poverty and limited access to educational and economic opportunities -- say a college education is "very important" today; another 22% say it is "somewhat important."
The 2019 State of Opportunity in America report, based on the second annual survey of fragile communities conducted by CAO and Gallup, focuses on a range of indicators gauging residents' perceptions of K-12 and postsecondary education. Results from the 2018 study show blacks (69%) and Hispanics (70%) are more likely than whites (45%) in fragile communities to say a college education is "very important." This is similar to findings in a nationwide study that show blacks and Hispanics place greater importance on postsecondary education than whites. Just 3% of all fragile community residents, including similar proportions across subgroups, say a college education is "not at all important" today.
Women living in fragile communities are more likely than men to say a college education is "very important" -- 69% versus 55%. The relatively strong value women place on higher education is underscored by data from the National Center for Education Statistics that show women have begun to outpace men in bachelor's degree attainment, increasing from 3.8% of the population in 1940 to 34.6% of the population in 2017, versus 33.7% of men in that same year.
While nearly all fragile community residents think postsecondary education is important, just 29% agree or strongly agree that all people in their area have access to an affordable college education if they want it, while 44% disagree or strongly disagree.
The CAO/Gallup study suggests that perceptions vary substantially across fragile communities in terms of access to higher education as well as satisfaction with the quality of the local educational opportunities available.
Fragile community residents in Chicago, for example, are less likely than those nationally to report that all people in their area have access to an affordable college education; just 22% agree or strongly agree versus 56% who disagree or strongly disagree all people have access. Likewise, Chicago fragile community residents are less likely than those nationally to be satisfied or extremely satisfied with the availability of high-quality community college programs in their area: 25% vs. 42%, respectively.
Among fragile community residents in Birmingham, just 6% are extremely satisfied with the availability of high-quality community college programs; 29% are satisfied. Residents of fragile communities in Fresno and Appalachia have more favorable perceptions of the availability of high-quality community college; 45% and 47%, respectively, are extremely satisfied or satisfied.
Postsecondary educational attainment remains a critical catalyst for securing a good job and a good life. Higher income levels are linked to education level , and importantly, postsecondary education gives students opportunities to discover and develop their talents and strengths. Gallup research among college graduates suggests that having career-relevant coursework and support are critical aspects of wellbeing, so finding ways for students to pursue an education that allows them to explore work that uses their strengths can lead to a thriving life. Access to an affordable college education can help students forge pathways to purposeful work in which they meaningfully participate in the economy.
The State of Opportunity in America report provides insights into the perceptions of education quality and access among residents of this country's fragile communities. While fragile community residents value higher education, barriers to accessing postsecondary degrees and credentials are significant, including high costs, burdensome debt and insufficient access to high-quality community college options. There is much to do to ensure that all people have access to the high-quality education that they want. Access the complete 2019 report and learn more about CAO's Center for Educational Opportunity.
This article is the second article in a four-part series. Read the first article here.