For the past 40 years, the Supreme Court has held that colleges can consider race as one factor in deciding which applicants to admit. That precedent is being challenged in a lawsuit against Harvard University. A WGBH News poll from the On Campus education team finds nearly three in four Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s stance. Kirk Carapezza is the Managing Editor of the On Campus Ed Desk. He spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the new poll and its findings. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: So we heard that a majority of Americans disagree with the consideration of race in admissions and at the same time, they say they do value racial diversity on college campuses. And that was one of several issues that were taken up in your poll. What else did you ask about?

Kirk Carapezza: We also asked about mental health and sexual assault on campus. When it comes to looking after students' mental health and protecting them from sexual assault, our poll finds a majority of Americans think colleges are not doing a good job, and women especially do not think they're doing a good job.

Another issue addressed was free speech. You might have heard that campus free speech has been in the headlines lately, from Middlebury up in Vermont to Williams in western Massachusetts, the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley. We found a majority of those surveyed support free speech on campus even if the speaker offends some people. And that includes nearly 60 percent of younger Americans, which really goes against the narrative we often hear. Our poll shows that people are more open-minded, even to offensive speech.

Howard: OK. Then there were these dollar and cents questions you had in the poll.

Carapezza: Yes. We asked, “Should university endowments be taxed?” and as far as we can tell, this is the first time anyone has ever polled on this specific question. And this is important, because this was included in the Republican tax bill, and the majority of those we polled oppose that policy. Fifty percent of Americans say colleges should not pay taxes on their endowments. That's compared to 43 percent who say they should. And interestingly, Republicans are split on this issue. So this is important, because under the Republican tax bill that President Trump signed into law, colleges with large endowments — schools like Harvard, Amherst, Williams — these schools will have to now pay the federal government a lot of money. Harvard, for example, is on the hook for about $40 million this year.

Howard: Okay, so colleges are on the hook for that, but what about the parents? The cost of college, it's just gone through the roof in recent decades. Your survey asked, “Is college worth it?”

Carapezza: In covering higher education, this is the number one question that comes up all the time: why does it cost so much? And a lot of people are polling on this question, and our poll finds despite soaring costs and student debt, a majority of Americans said "yes, going to college is still worth it." But they also said it's not necessary to get ahead in life, and I think this signals that students and their families are certainly feeling the crunch, and they're also seeking alternative pathways. Traditional higher education is facing this existential crisis, and it's being challenged by work training programs that claim to give students specific skills that business leaders say they need right now. I think colleges are forced to rethink their role in preparing students for the workforce, and they're really trying to connect learning and working.

Howard: So, what prompted WGBH to commission this national poll on higher education?

Carapezza: We tackled a lot in this poll and there is a lot to dig into here. But stepping back, we wanted to look at higher education as an institution. And around here, as many of our listeners know, higher ed is a major industry in New England, and our colleges attract students from all across the country, around the globe, so how Americans perceive them makes a difference. And I think this poll is a snapshot of that perception.

Howard: Thanks for coming in Kirk.

Carapezza: Thank you Barbara.

Howard: That's WGBH Radio's Kirk Carapezza. WGBH’s Higher Education desk will be detailing the results of the survey over the next couple of days. You can see the full survey results at This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.