The crisis in confidence coincides with a similar decline in the public's view that higher education is affordable and available to those who need it, according to the report - suggesting that affordability and access are linked to the faith people have in the institution of higher learning.
The waning confidence in higher education isn't limited to the general public either; academics have begun to lose faith as well.
Concerns about the future of higher education also exist within academia. College and university trustees and board members -- many of whom are intimately familiar with higher ed's services, operations and impact -- remain concerned about the industry's future, despite being more confident in their own institution's future. The AGB 2018 Trustee Index, a recent study conducted by the Association of Governing Boards and Gallup, finds that three in four trustees (74%) are concerned or very concerned about the future of higher education in the U.S. Their concerns remain focused largely on one main challenge: affordability. -Gallup
What do college and university trustees point to as the top issues causing the drop in public confidence? Negative media reports about student debt (72%) and news reports on the cost of tuition (64%). To that end, more than half of trustees (58%) say their top concern about the future of higher education is the cost.
When it comes to affordability, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that the total cost of tuition, fees and living expenses rose 28% between 2005/2006 - 2015/2016 in the United States after account for inflation, while enrollment across all higher education sectors dropped by 1.4% in 2018, which Gallup says is consistent with recent trends.
Many colleges, universities and even states are attempting to address affordability concerns and related enrollment decreases by freezing or reducing tuition costs. For the seventh year in a row, Purdue University has frozen its tuition rates. Western Governors University has bucked the enrollment trend in higher education for a variety of reasons, including because of its commitment to keep costs contained. In the past five years, WGU has increased the cost of annual tuition by only $600, while total enrollment has more than doubled, to over 100,000 students. -Gallup
Restoring confidence in higher education - and boosting enrollment - can be accomplished by restoring affordability while improving the quality of higher education, according to the report.
A 2015 Gallup report revealed a clear relationship between student debt levels and graduates' perceptions that their degree was 'worth it.' Graduates drowning in student loan debt were obviously less likely to consider their education a worthwhile investment.
However, and fortunately for higher education, a high-quality experience in school blunted the negative effect of student debt on graduates' beliefs that their undergraduate experience was worthwhile, proving that the significant investment can be worth it for some grads. The AGB 2018 Trustee Index also shows that trustees have been asked to make changes to the academic programs offered at their institution to better respond to 21st-century needs. Half of trustees say senior administrators have asked them to increase or introduce STEM programs, and about one-third say they have been asked to increase or introduce applied or experiential learning programs. -Gallup
While the American public largely still believes that higher education is the way to achieve a better life through higher-paying jobs, institutions must figure out how to provide a quality education without saddling grads with debt that takes decades to pay off.