New Poll: What Americans Really Think of Community Colleges

Updated March 11, 2018 |
Have community colleges shaken their unfair reputation as being "13th" grade? A new poll shows that more Americans are seeing community colleges in a positive light.
With college graduation rates trailing today, more emphasis is being placed on community colleges as a means of assuring our country’s future economic stability. A recent AP poll suggests that the majority of Americans are realizing the many benefits of a community college education, bolstering the image of these institutions as a viable alternative to four-year universities today. This poll comes at the same time the White House has launched the first ever summit on community colleges.

What the Numbers Show

According to a report on Google News, the Associated Press and Stanford University conducted a poll to find out what Americans' attitudes were toward community college. The poll found that the vast majority of Americans (71%) believe it is advantageous for some students to attend a community college, rather than a four-year institution. Nearly the same number polled agreed that an education received from a community college is "excellent" or "good."

The poll also asked whether community colleges do a good job of preparing students for a professional job after graduation. Out of the individuals polled, 62% said community colleges adequately prepare students for the work force, while 68% said that four-year universities succeed in this goal. These numbers indicate that the majority of Americans today are pleased with the education received at a two-year college, improving the image of community colleges in the world of higher education overall.
The only groups that did not find community colleges on par with other institutions were Blacks and Hispanics. According to the poll, 43% of minorities believed it was better to get into a four-year university, as opposed to just 17% of whites. Because minorities are also more likely to enroll in a two-year college than whites, the numbers show a difference between where these students want to go to college and where they actually enroll.
Experts Speak Up
The figures in this poll may suggest that the positive publicity given to colleges from the Obama administration may have a direct impact on how the rest of the country views these institutions of higher education. President Obama referred to community colleges as "unsung heroes" of the U.S. education system in a recent report on Bloomberg. President Obama went on to say that these colleges have a crucial role to play in educating America's future workforce and helping this country compete in a global marketplace.
President Obama isn't the only one to sing the praises of community colleges today. Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called community colleges "hidden gems" at a recent White House summit on community colleges. Gates told the audience at the summit that community colleges offer opportunities specifically for low-income and non-traditional students. Her foundation has pledged a significant amount of funding to bolster community colleges over the next decade.
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice-president Joe Biden, is a vocal advocate of community colleges, where she has been teaching for the past 17 years. ABC7Chicago reported on the summit, where Dr. Biden told the audience, "Community colleges are uniquely American, places where anyone who walks through the doors is one step closer to realizing the American Dream."
Improvements on the Way
It appears that this recent poll is only the beginning of the positive focus community colleges hope to enjoy over the next few years. President Obama, along with Dr. Jill Biden, have put together initiatives to promote cooperation between community colleges and the business world. These ties will help community colleges provide the best possible training for graduates hoping to enter the workforce in the near future.
Additional funding has been promised to help community colleges expand relevant programs that will further the United States' economic standing in the global market. Funding will go to help more students afford community college so that the U.S. can once again lead the world in the proportion of college graduates each year.
The focus will also be on retaining students through graduation, in light of current statistics that show less than half of all community college students end up graduating from their chosen programs.
While the community college image appears to be mostly positive, there is some concern that satisfaction by the general public may make it more difficult to bring about reformation needed for more effective institutions. Stanford researcher Michael Kirst commented on the poll's findings, "The results ought to be somewhat troubling to people who want to reform community colleges. If the public does not think there's a major problem with an institution, it's often difficult to mobilize the political will to change it."

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