Partisan Divide on Impact of Higher Education

BY HANK REICHMAN

Although Americans overall believe by a 55-36 percent margin that colleges and universities have a positive rather than a negative effect on “the way things are going in this country,” self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. Thirty-six percent of Republicans say the effect is positive.  By contrast, Democrats and Democratic leaners say by a margin of 72-19 percent that colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

These were results of a Pew Research Center survey of attitudes toward five major groups of public institutions, conducted June 8-18.  The institutions are, in addition to colleges and universities, churches and religious organizations; labor unions; banks and other financial institutions; and the national news media.  Overall, the religious institutions had the most positive rating (59-26), followed by colleges and universities (55-36) and labor unions (47-32).  Banks and financial institutions (39-46) and the national media (28-63) had net negative ratings.

“As recently as two years ago,” the Center reports,

most Republicans and Republican leaners held a positive view of the role of colleges and universities. In September 2015, 54% of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country; 37% rated their impact negatively.

By 2016, Republicans’ ratings of colleges and universities were mixed (43% positive, 45% negative). Today, for the first time on a question asked since 2010, a majority (58%) of Republicans say colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, while 36% say they have a positive effect.

Among Republicans, there is an ideological gap in views of the impact of colleges and universities and other institutions: Nearly two-thirds of conservative Republicans (65%) say colleges are having a negative impact, compared with just 43% of moderate and liberal Republicans.

By contrast, majorities of both liberal Democrats (79%) and moderate or conservative Democrats (67%) say higher education institutions have a positive impact.

According to Pew,

Younger Republicans continue to express more positive views of colleges than do older Republicans. But the share of Republicans under 50 who view colleges positively has fallen 21 points since 2015 (from 65% to 44%), while declining 15 points among those 50 and older (43% to 28%).

Since 2015, positive views of colleges and universities have fallen 11 points among Republicans with a college degree or more education (from 44% to 33%) and 20 points among those who do not have a college degree (57% to 37%). There also have been double-digit declines in the share of conservative Republicans (from 48% to 29%) and moderate and liberal Republicans (from 62% to 50%) who say colleges have a positive effect on the country. . . .

. . . . About half (52%) of Republicans ages 18 to 29 say colleges and universities have a positive impact on the country, compared with just 27% of those 65 and older. By contrast, there are no significant differences in views among Democrats by age, with comparable majorities of all age groups saying colleges and universities have a positive impact.

Conservatives, especially in higher ed, should think long and hard about the impact of their increasingly hysterical attacks on a supposedly hegemonic extremist campus left.   They are undermining the legitimacy of the academy as a whole and even of truth itself. 

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