Alison Yin for EdSource
University of California at Berkeley students in Doe Library

Along with worry over the high costs of college and housing, many Californians say there are ways to succeed without college.

That’s according to a new poll published this week by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Nearly half of adults and 55 percent of likely voters say there are “many ways to succeed without a college education.” But political affiliation and demographics indicate a split in opinion on the role of higher education.

  • Half of Democrats agree college is necessary; 67 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Independents say there are other ways to succeed (about 45 percent of the state’s registered voters are Democrat and 25 percent are registered Republican).
  • Latinos, Asian-Americans and African-Americans are more likely than whites to view college as necessary.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC, said the perception of college is also affected by income levels.

“Individuals in the lower-income categories were more likely to say college is the path forward for success,” he said. “I think that Californians with higher incomes … are more likely to take it for granted and think that other attributes are necessary for success.”

But despite roughly half of the population thinking higher education isn’t necessary for a successful life, “Californians view higher education as very important for their state’s future and that is an attitude that cuts across political, regional, and racial and ethnic categories,” said Baldassare.

Eighty percent of adults say the state’s higher education system is very important “to the quality of life and economic vitality of the state,” the poll found.

For Californians, “the biggest concerns are over the cost of higher education, rather than the quality of higher education,” Baldassare said.

On college affordability, 75 percent of adults say the price of attendance “keeps students who are qualified and motivated to go to college from doing so.” Along those lines, more than 60 percent of adults believe the state is not spending enough on higher education. However, about half the state’s adults say they are unwilling to pay more in taxes to raise money for public higher education.

On whether the state’s higher education system is “generally” going in the wrong direction, 45 percent of adults and 53 percent of likely voters say it is, while 46 percent of adults and 37 percent of likely voters believe the state is moving in the right direction.

Despite those results, more than 60 percent of adults and likely voters give high marks to the state’s three public higher-education systems — The University of California, The California State University and the California Community Colleges.

“This paradox would not be possible if it weren’t for the fact that in the minds of California adults, quality is not the issue, cost is the issue,” Baldassare said. While “people feel good about the quality of public higher education in California,” he added, they view the fiscal headwinds in creeping housing prices and other affordability issues as problems. Recently the governor approved a package of bills to address the state’s housing shortage, though many experts say those actions alone aren’t enough.

PPIC, 2017

Source: PPIC, 2017

Underscoring that point, 59 percent of adults said colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the nation — echoing a similar finding this July by the Pew Research Center. Like that national poll, Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to hold this view, 70 percent to 38 percent.

The state’s adults also seem to view the California’s political leaders as lacking on matters of higher education.

While most voters approve of Jerry Brown’s role as governor, 45 percent of adults and just 39 percent of likely voters approve of his handling of higher education. The results are similar for the state’s lawmakers: Forty-one percent of adults and 35 percent of likely voters.

Like a Pew poll from 2016 and EdSource’s own state survey from last month, Californians hold vocational certificates in high esteem. Roughly eight in 10 adults said that both a certificate in a professional, technical, or vocational field and four-year degrees prepare a student somewhat well or very well. A smaller share — 58 percent — say that a two-year degree does the same.

To Baldassare, career and technical education is “an important element of higher education that maybe sometimes doesn’t get as much attention as it should.”

The poll has a margin of error of 3.3 percent for adults and 4.1 percent for likely voters.

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  1. Fred Jones 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Together with EdSource’s commissioned poll from last month, it should now be self-evident that California voters are looking for a clearer ROI (Return On Investment) from our taxpayer and tuition funded educational system, and that career readiness leads all other concerns. It might be surprising to many to realize that the UC system does not have a workforce development mission, as the Community Colleges specifically do. Their focus has always been on research and scholarship, … Read More

    Together with EdSource’s commissioned poll from last month, it should now be self-evident that California voters are looking for a clearer ROI (Return On Investment) from our taxpayer and tuition funded educational system, and that career readiness leads all other concerns.

    It might be surprising to many to realize that the UC system does not have a workforce development mission, as the Community Colleges specifically do. Their focus has always been on research and scholarship, as well it should.

    But given the overwhelming priority that voters are placing on CTE, perhaps it’s time policymakers stop allowing UC to be the primary driver of K-12 curricular choices (as it has done for both UC and CSU admissions consideration since 2000).

    California voters want our schools to do a better job of connecting students’ career aspirations and aptitudes with their educational pursuits, rather than simply encouraging them to get more and more formal education without any end goal in sight.

    Sounds like the “college for all” fixation has finally and unequivocally been called out by the disgruntled consumers of this well-intentioned but misguided and very expensive educational hope.

    Given the state’s budgetary commitment to CTE via the Incentive Grant expires next year, we’ll see whether our politicians have gotten this overwhelming message from their voting constituents via these two back-to-back polls.