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Americans More Confident in Two-Year Schools

Americans More Confident in Two-Year Schools

Story Highlights

  • Americans more confident in community colleges
  • Greatest difference in confidence between two- and four-year schools is cost

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- About half of Americans (48%) say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in community colleges. Confidence in community colleges is higher than confidence in four-year colleges and universities, as one-third of Americans report high levels of confidence in four-year institutions.


Results for this study conducted in partnership with Lumina Foundation are based on a Gallup Panel™ web survey conducted June 3-18, 2024, with a sample of 2,180 U.S. adults aged 18 and older.

Republicans Far Less Confident in Two- and Four-Year Schools

Confidence in two- and four-year pathways is highly related to political party. Republicans are far less likely than independents and Democrats to say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in community colleges and four-year schools. However, all three party groups evaluate two-year colleges more positively than four-year colleges. Republicans show the largest gap in ratings of the two types of higher education institutions, as 36% are confident in two-year schools, compared with a 15% rating for four-year schools. Majorities of Democrats are confident in both types of institutions, while 46% of independents have positive views of two-year colleges, compared with 30% for four-year institutions.


White respondents are about as likely as people of color to say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in community colleges. However, people of color are slightly more likely than their White peers to be confident in four-year schools.

Greatest Differences in Confidence in Two- and Four-Year Schools Are in Cost, Value

Americans express greater confidence in community colleges than in four-year colleges and universities on each of seven aspects of higher education, including affordability, quality and the student experience. The broader pattern may be partially explained by cost and value concerns with four-year colleges and universities. While 58% of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in two-year institutions providing an affordable education, 11% say the same about four-year schools.

Americans also express significant doubt about the value of a four-year degree, as 81% say they have some or very little confidence that four-year schools provide an education that is worth the cost. Just 18% have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence that a four-year degree is worth it. This compares with more than half of Americans (55%) who are confident in the value of community colleges.


Bottom Line

In the fall of 2023, enrollments in higher education increased for the first time since the pandemic, but improvements in four-year enrollments were relatively modest, with greater change made among two-year colleges. Still, the total number of undergraduate students nationally is at least 1 million fewer than in 2018, confirming that more work must be done to encourage students to pursue a postsecondary pathway of any kind.

Amid these concerning enrollment trends, Gallup finds that overall confidence in the higher education industry remains at a record low, while the percentage of Americans with very little confidence in higher education is at an all-time high. Lower confidence ratings in four-year institutions and concerns about the cost and value of the degrees they provide may partially explain these declining ratings in the higher education industry in general.

Learn more about the Lumina Foundation/Gallup State of Higher Education study.

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