08/25/06 FOX News Poll: Is College Worth the Money?

While only a slim majority of Americans thinks going to college is worth the cost, people overwhelmingly believe a college education is more important today than it was a generation ago.

A recent FOX News poll finds that most people (84 percent) think a college education is more important to succeeding in life today than it was 25 years ago. This belief is consistent among demographic groups — men and women, young and old, high and low income, white and non-white — all agree that having a college degree is vital these days.

Moreover, 88 percent of those with a college degree think having a higher education is more important now, as do 81 percent of those without a degree.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News from June 13 to June 14. The poll has a 3-point error margin.

Click here to view the FOX News Poll Archive.

While having a college degree may be considered more important these days, some do not think it is worth the cost. Overall, by a slim 3-percentage point margin, a 49 percent plurality disagrees that a college degree is so critical that it should be “obtained at any cost.”

And when told that attending a four-year private college costs about $120,000, just over half of Americans (53 percent) say it is worth it, while a large minority (40 percent) disagrees.

Those with a college degree (55 percent) are only slightly more likely than those without a degree (52 percent) to say it is worth that amount of money.

One of the largest differences on this issue is found regionally: 64 percent of those living in the West and 55 percent of Southerners think college is worth the cost, compared to 48 percent of those living in the Northeast and 46 percent of Midwesterners.

“One reason for these regional differences may be the mix of private and public colleges,” comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. “The Northeast in particular has many of the older, private colleges that are far more expensive than state schools. The Western states in particular often have first-rate state universities that enjoy both lower costs and state subsidies.”

Better-educated people are much more likely to think it is worth going into debt to obtain a college education. Six of 10 Americans with a college degree (61 percent) think a student should go $50,000 or more into debt if it is the only way to pay for school, while only 44 percent of those without a college degree think it is worth it.

If a high school student were to ask for advice on what to do with $100,000, what would you recommend? By three-to-one Americans would tell the student to put the money toward college tuition (65 percent) rather than investing the money and going straight to work (21 percent).

Majorities of those with a college degree (75 percent) and those with no degree (56 percent) would advise using the money for college tuition, as would those in both lower income (62 percent) and higher income households (68 percent).

Finally, Americans agree that how much a student learns while in college (81 percent) is more important than whether the college has a good reputation (9 percent).

PDF: Click here for full poll results