Higher education enjoys support A national public opinion poll reports Americans strongly support higher education, but the poll's real value may be in its secondary findings, the executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents said May 2.
Robert T. Tad Perry says he is encouraged by survey results published May 2 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, but some findings clearly identify areas on which higher education can focus.
"These polls are one way to gauge the public's perception of the job we do," Perry said. "For one, it helps us to confirm our priorities, and we can also better communicate our story if we know what the public is thinking."
Ninety-one percent of the people responding to the Chronicle survey said colleges and universities are one of this country's most valuable resources, and 64 percent said an advanced degree � graduate-level or professional � will soon be more important than a four-year degree for success in the U.S. The telephone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted nationwide, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
"The poll results show solid public support for higher education and the value of a college education," Perry said. "It was also encouraging to see 67 percent of those polled said state and federal governments should invest more money in higher education."
That same percentage � 67 percent � said state and federal governments should invest more money in financial aid for students going to college. Perry said that view gained support this year in the South Dakota Legislature. The Legislature set the groundwork by creating the Regents' Scholarship Program, although with a tight budget it did not come up with any state dollars to fund the scholarships this year.
"We know that finding the money to pay for these scholarships is a priority for many legislators and Gov. Rounds," Perry said. "We are ready to work with the state's policy makers to make these scholarships a reality next year."
Perry said other survey findings from The Chronicle of Higher Education are worth noting, including the fact that 34 percent of those polled said college graduates are not well prepared for the workforce. That perception confirms that higher education must continually assess its curriculum and make sure programs are relevant for today's students.
, Perry said.
* Preparing undergraduate students for a career is considered the most important role for a college to perform; 71 percent of those surveyed rated it "very important." In general, the public rates the basics � general education, adult education, leadership and responsibility, and teacher training � ahead of a university's research and economic development missions, according to the survey.
While this is not surprising, Perry said it means higher education must continually demonstrate to the public the importance of its research, science, and technology efforts. "Universities are big players in creating the critical research base and business infrastructure that result in new jobs and economic opportunities for a state's citizens," he said. "The 'new economy' is built upon creating new knowledge and transferring it into economic opportunity. We need to do a lot more of this for South Dakota's future."
* Over half (54 percent) of the survey respondents said they did not consider high-cost colleges and universities to be of higher quality. "It is good to see the public recognizes lower-cost institutions like South Dakota's public universities can offer a quality education," Perry said. South Dakota's annual average cost for in-state undergraduates ($7,870) is one of the lowest in the region.
* Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed predicted that sometime in the next 10 years, students who want a college education would take most of their courses over the Internet. Perry said South Dakota's public university system is seeing that trend as well, with the explosive growth of online education and distance delivery via the Regents' Electronic University Consortium (www.worldclasseducation.org).