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Americans Value College Education Despite Barriers

Americans Value College Education Despite Barriers

Story Highlights

  • Most view college education as equally or more important than 20 years ago
  • Few believe all Americans have access to quality, affordable education

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Approximately three-quarters of currently enrolled college and prospective college students report that a college education is either more important than it was 20 years ago or equally as important. As might be expected, perceived importance is higher among currently enrolled students at 82%, compared with 72% of those who are currently unenrolled. The majority of currently enrolled students say a college education is more important today than it was 20 years ago.


These findings come from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study, conducted Oct. 26-Nov. 17, 2022. Results are based on web survey responses from 6,008 U.S. adults currently enrolled in an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, certificate, or certification program and 6,007 U.S. adults aged 18 to 59 who are not currently enrolled in such programs. About half of the unenrolled adults surveyed have no prior college experience, while the rest have some postsecondary education but have not earned a degree.

Students currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program are more likely than those enrolled in associate degree, certificate or certification programs to report it is more important to obtain a two- or four-year degree today than it was 20 years ago. Sixty percent of bachelor’s degree students say it is more important, compared with less than half of those pursuing all other credentials.


Perceived importance is similar among different age and income groups of current and prospective students.

Public Doubts That Americans Have Access to a Quality, Affordable Postsecondary Education

Only 23% of currently enrolled or prospective students believe that all or most Americans have access to quality, affordable education after high school if they want it. Thirty-seven percent estimate that about half of Americans have access, and 38% say that not too many Americans can access quality, affordable education and training after high school.

Currently enrolled students are slightly less negative than prospective students about college access. Still, large majorities of both groups believe that no more than half of Americans have access to quality, affordable education beyond high school.

Attitudes among currently enrolled college students are similar to those measured in the 2021 Lumina Foundation-Gallup survey; however, prospective students have become slightly more negative when evaluating access.


Opinions about higher education access are generally similar among subgroups nationally, including by income and race and ethnicity.


While U.S. adults affirm the importance of post-high school education and training to achieve a successful career, they remain negative about accessibility. These attitudes persist despite significant investment and commitment among states and national organizations to expand access to multiple educational pathways, including certificate, certification, and two- and four-year degree-granting programs.

Rising tuition rates, media focus and public concern about higher-education affordability -- particularly among four-year colleges and universities -- likely contribute to these concerns about accessibility. This negative perception and growing concerns about accessibility are unfortunate news for a U.S. higher education system already experiencing continued enrollment declines, particularly among historically underrepresented groups. These results suggest that the cost and accessibility challenges associated with traditional, high-cost higher-education opportunities may be negatively affecting perceptions of accessibility across all higher-education programs, and possibly discouraging potential students from furthering their education.

Increasing awareness of nontraditional, lower-cost and high-quality programs is critical to ensuring learners nationally can obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to grow in their current career or transition careers in this increasingly complex U.S. job market.

Learn more about how the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study works.


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