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Americans' Confidence in Higher Education Down Sharply

Americans' Confidence in Higher Education Down Sharply

Story Highlights

  • 36% have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education
  • Confidence down from 48% in 2018 and 57% in 2015
  • All major subgroups less confident, with Republicans dropping the most

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans’ confidence in higher education has fallen to 36%, sharply lower than in two prior readings in 2015 (57%) and 2018 (48%). In addition to the 17% of U.S. adults who have “a great deal” and 19% “quite a lot” of confidence, 40% have “some” and 22% “very little” confidence.


The latest decline in the public’s trust in higher education is from a June 1-22 Gallup poll that also found confidence in 16 other institutions has been waning in recent years. Many of these entities, which are tracked more often than higher education, are now also at or near their lowest points in confidence. Although diminished, higher education ranks fourth in confidence among the 17 institutions measured, with small business, the military and the police in the top three spots. This was also the case in 2018, the last time higher education was included in the list of institutions.

All Major Subgroups, Led by Republicans, Less Confident in Higher Ed

In 2015, majorities of Americans in all key subgroups expressed confidence in higher education, with one exception -- independents (48%). By 2018, though, confidence had fallen across all groups, with the largest drop, 17 percentage points, among Republicans. In the latest measure, confidence once again fell across the board, but Republicans’ sank the most -- 20 points to 19%, the lowest of any group. Confidence among adults without a college degree and those aged 55 and older dropped nearly as much as Republicans’ since 2018.


Even though all subgroups show declining confidence in higher education, significant gaps persist among political, educational, gender and age subgroups. Notably, the only key subgroup with majority-level confidence in higher education is Democrats (59%).

Bottom Line

Americans’ confidence in higher education, which showed a marked decrease between 2015 and 2018, has declined further to a new low point. While Gallup did not probe for reasons behind the recent drop in confidence, the rising costs of postsecondary education likely play a significant role.

There is a growing divide between Republicans’ and Democrats’ confidence in higher education. Previous Gallup polling found that Democrats expressed concern about the costs, while Republicans registered concern about politics in higher education.

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