Despite cost, other challenges, college worth it to Texans, poll finds


Highlights

Fifty-two percent say Texas government spends too little on college education, up from 45 percent in 2015.

Sixty-seven percent would “definitely” advise a high school senior to pursue a college degree.

Most adult Texans say state government spends too little on higher education and regard student loan debt as a major problem, but they would still advise a high school senior to pursue a degree, citing higher pay, respect and pride among other benefits.

Those are some of the findings of a statewide telephone poll commissioned by the Texas arm of Western Governors University, a private, nonprofit and mostly online institution.

“The 2017 poll provides a clear view of the importance Texans attach to higher education in all aspects of life,” said James Henson, one of the poll’s designers. “From the micro-level of personal satisfaction to the macro-level of the development of the state’s workforce, Texans believe that good things come from higher education, and believe the state should invest in making post-secondary education accessible to Texans.”

This is the third year of the WGU Texas poll, which was conducted by Strategic Research Associates, also known as SRATEX LLC. The company’s principals, Henson and Joshua Blank, also conduct polling for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, where they are employed.

Chancellor Steven Johnson said the findings echo what school officials observe every day at WGU Texas, whose competency-based program allows students to advance at their own pace.

“Our student body, made up mostly of nontraditional learners, need access to high quality, post-secondary programs that will ultimately increase their earning power,” Johnson said. “They need a path to higher education that is flexible and affordable, and financial aid to cover the costs of earning their degrees.”

The poll of 800 adult Texas residents in August had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The results reveal growing concern about the state government’s commitment to education, with 52 percent saying the state spends too little on college education, up from 49 percent in 2016 and 45 percent in 2015. Forty percent said the state’s colleges and universities provide adequate financial aid, compared with 52 percent in 2015. And 59 percent said the state doesn’t do enough to ensure that public schools prepare students for college-level work.

Nonetheless, large majorities had a positive view of the economic and personal values of post-secondary education. For example, 89 percent said earning a certificate or degree after high school leads to a higher income, and 78 percent said such a credential increases the respect one receives from others. Ninety-two percent said a certificate or degree is a source of pride. And 67 percent would “definitely” advise a high school senior to pursue a college degree, while 22 percent would “probably” do so.

Other findings include:

• 73 percent said student loan debt is a major problem.

• 66 percent of those without a college degree cited the cost and family responsibilities as obstacles.

• 70 percent said a certificate or degree is “very important” and 25 percent called it “somewhat important.”

• 90 percent agreed that an educated workforce is essential for the state to compete economically with other states.

• 65 percent would prefer to earn a degree from a “quality, traditional, in-person degree program,” while 28 percent would prefer a “quality online degree program.”



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