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September 17, 2018

WGBH News National Poll Uncovers America’s Sentiments About Higher Education including Perceptions about Impact on Society, Race and College Admissions and the Value of a College Degree

BOSTON – (September 17, 2018) --- In a national poll on perceptions of higher education, WGBH News has found a majority of Americans support a racially and ethnically diverse student body yet overwhelmingly they do not support the use of race as a factor in college admissions. This was one of many findings in the national poll which looked at the impact of college and universities on society, perceptions of public and private universities, the role of higher education in society and the value of a college education, among other issues.

Commissioned by the news team at Boston public media producer WGBH, the national poll surveyed 1002 adults 18-65, across ethnic, geographic and economic groups. The poll was conducted August 21– 25, 2018 by Abt Associates, based in Cambridge, Mass. The margin of error for most results is +/- 3.5 percent.

Overall, more than 77 percent of those surveyed believe colleges and universities have a positive impact on society and 81 percent believe colleges and universities have a positive impact on the local community. While 76 percent have a favorable opinion of public colleges and universities, only 59 percent shared that opinion when asked about private colleges and universities.

“Over the past year, Americans have been confronted with national news stories about sexual assault, free speech, racial conflict and mental health on college campuses,” says Pulitzer-prize winning editor Ken Cooper who oversaw the project for WGBH News. “As the nation’s leading public media organization, WGBH and our newsroom have a unique perch, in Boston, a major hub of the higher education industry. We decided it was critically important to our audience to take the country’s pulse on some fundamental questions about higher education, including whether or not Americans still value a college degree.”

Value of a college education

The WGBH News poll measured broad sentiments about the value of attending college. When asked about the value of attending college, considering the costs to attend and the benefits of graduation, 68 percent of respondents stated college is worth attending. However, when asked if a college degree is needed, 55 percent did not believe it was necessary to graduate from college to get ahead in life.

Admissions and Race

When it comes to admissions, survey respondents believe that admissions should be based on a variety of factors, with 70 percent believing admissions should be based on more than simply grades and exam scores. Athletic talent, musical talent, leadership and overcoming hardships including health issues and poverty were all seen as positive factors in the admissions process. 86 percent of respondents believe that it is important for colleges and universities to create a racially and ethnically diverse campus. However, 72 percent oppose the use of race as a factor in college admissions. This percentage was consistent among white and non-white respondents. The finding contrasts with 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, upholding that colleges can use race as one factor in deciding which applicants to admit.

Mental Health and Assault

Overall, 61 percent of Americans believe colleges and universities are doing a good job of providing a safe social environment for students. However, they believe colleges and universities are doing too little to combat sexual assault and mental health issues on campus. 50 percent of those surveyed believe colleges and universities are not doing a good job looking after the mental health needs of students while 54 percent do not believe these institutions are protecting students from sexual assault.

Free Speech on College Campuses

Overwhelmingly, Americans perceive college campuses to be partisan environments, 59 percent believing they lean towards one particular political viewpoint and 77 percent of respondents identifying colleges as leaning liberal. 79 percent of respondents see this as a problem and 20 percent do not identify it as a problem. 57 percent of people surveyed believe that people whose speech may be deemed as offensive should still be invited to speak on college campuses.

Support for Public Universities

Among respondents, support for public colleges and universities remains strong, until asked about higher taxes to ensure these universities remain affordable. 76 percent of those polled have a favorable opinion of public colleges and universities and 78 percent would be concerned about reduced funding for these schools. However, 49 percent of respondents were opposed to paying higher taxes that would enable additional residents to attend these schools.

Taxation on Endowments

WGBH News is the first outlet to survey individuals about the taxation of college and university endowments, since the federal government initiated a 1.4 percent tax on the financial gains of private university endowments worth over $500,000 per student. 50 percent of respondents say that colleges and universities should not pay taxes on their endowments, while 43 percent say they should be taxed and 7 percent remain unsure.

WGBH News is reporting on the poll results in depth across its integrated media properties on 89.7 WGBH Radio, WGBH-TV, and digitally. A collection of this reporting as well as the results of the poll can be found at

About WGBH News
WGBH News is among the fastest growing local news providers in greater Boston and draws on the talent of a multi-platform newsroom that includes 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s Local NPR, television and digital reporting. The WGBH newsroom continues to invest in substantive local coverage and has established dedicated desks for innovation, higher education and politics as well as unique partnerships to expand on that commitment, including with WNYC’s The Takeaway, PRI’s The World, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, and The GroundTruth Project.

About WGBH
WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, including Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Arthur, and more than a dozen other prime-time, lifestyle, and children’s series. WGBH also is a major supplier of programming for public radio and a partner with Public Radio International (PRI) and PRX. As a leader in educational multimedia for the classroom, WGBH supplies content to PBS LearningMedia, a national broadband service for teachers and students. WGBH also is a pioneer in technologies and services that make media accessible to those with hearing or visual impairments. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards and Oscars. Find more information at