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Four-year degree important, but other options in higher education exist, new poll shows

(CJ photo by Kari Travis)
(CJ photo by Kari Travis)

North Carolinians agree education beyond high school is important, but a traditional four-year degree isn’t the only option people consider, a new poll shows.

A Nov. 28 Gallup survey commissioned by the My Future NC Commission, a working group to “set a statewide recommendation for post-secondary attainment,” found 94 percent of state residents think it’s important for more adults to complete a degree or certificate program after high school.

The poll, which the commission says contradicts national headlines about negativity toward higher education, collected opinions from nearly 3,500 state residents. Topics ranged from early childhood and K-12 schools to community colleges and four-year public and private universities. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

North Carolinians believe more learning options make for better lives, results show. Sixty-five percent of respondents said more education would help them “get ahead,” and 70 percent said “having education beyond high school, including a college degree or professional certificate, is essential for getting a good job.”

On the flipside, 53 percent disagreed that all North Carolinians receive the same quality of education. Forty percent were unhappy with the cost of four-year public universities, and 60 percent were dissatisfied with the price of a private college degree.

Significantly, 86 percent of respondents said North Carolina employers value a community college degree “some, or a lot.” In contrast, sixty-five percent believed a four-year college degree has “a lot” of value for employers. Thirty percent said a four-year degree has “some value.”

Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed agreed that community college is a good place to start on a four-year degree in North Carolina.

That community colleges are popular among residents is a good sign, said Peter Hans, president of the N.C. Community College System. But there are areas in need of improvement. Course credit transfers and other processes must be streamlined to make things easier for students, he said.

The commission is “pleased but not satisfied with what the poll shows,” said commission co-chair and University of North Carolina System President Margaret Spellings, who submitted her resignation to UNC’s governing board last month. Spellings will leave North Carolina Jan. 15 while the commission works to wrap things up. In a Nov. 28 meeting with reporters, she expressed disappointment at leaving before the body fully completes its work.

“It’s clear we have the ingredients to build a college-going culture in all 100 counties, as North Carolinians see college as a path that works for them,” Spellings said. “But to finish the job and provide all North Carolinians the opportunity they deserve, we must tackle our most pressing issues of equity and cost.”

Key survey findings

Perceptions of Importance of Expanding Educational Options

  • 94 percent of North Carolinians say it is important for adults in NC to have education beyond high school, including a professional certificate or degree
  • 64 percent agree it is important to increase the number of adults who complete a college degree

Perceptions of Education’s Impact on Job Market

  • 70 percent agree that having education beyond high school, including a college degree or professional certificate, is essential for getting a good job, and 81 percent agree that a good job is essential to having a high quality of life
  • 89 percent of North Carolinians think N.C. public schools should offer more classes that teach job and career-related skills
  • 46 percent think completing a four-year degree is the best path to a good job for students graduating from high school, while 24 percent think completing a two-year degree is the best path. Seven percent say going directly to work is the best path, while 23 percent say completing a professional certification

Perceptions of Equity, Barriers and Cost

  • 43 percent agree — 27 percent disagree — affordable education options exist beyond high school for working adults in North Carolina
  • 35 percent think North Carolina is doing worse than other states in the quality of education it offers its residents, while only 17 percent think North Carolina is doing better than other states 
  • 46 percent agree that a four-year college degree is worth the cost, and 22 percent disagree it’s worth the cost 
  • 26 percent of North Carolinians are satisfied with the affordability of four-year public colleges and universities in their area, while 41 percent are dissatisfied; 14 percent of North Carolinians are satisfied with the affordability of four-year private colleges and universities in their area, while 60 percent are dissatisfied
  • 54 percent believe that education beyond high school is available to anyone in North Carolina who wants it

 

Read more survey findings here.