Confidence in higher education has reached a new low, according to a new poll from Gallup. The survey found declines in confidence in all surveyed demographic groups from 2015 to 2023, with Republicans experiencing the sharpest decline.
According to the survey, which polled around 1,000 adults on their confidence level in 16 different American institutions, only 36 percent of respondents reported that they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education—a drop of 21 points since 2015 and 12 points since 2018.
Democrats were the only group surveyed where a majority (59 percent) reported having a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education. However, this still marked a nine-point decline in confidence levels from 2015. Republicans experienced the sharpest decline in confidence in higher education since 2015, declining from a 56 percent confidence rate to only 19 percent in 2023.
Declines in confidence were also more pronounced in Americans without a college degree: Those who reported that they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education declined 24 points from 2015 to 2023, while confidence among those with a college degree only or a postgraduate degree declined by 10 points and 17 points respectively.
It’s likely that Republicans and Democrats are expressing declining confidence in colleges and universities for vastly different reasons. According to a 2017 poll from Gallup, Democrats with low confidence in higher education named cost as the top reason for their lack of support. Republicans listed concerns that colleges are “too liberal/political” and do not allow “students to think for themselves; pushing their own agenda” as the sources of their lack of confidence.
While this more recent Gallup poll did not ask respondents for their reasoning behind their confidence levels, it’s difficult to imagine this split has changed much. The cost of college—and pressure to forgive student loans—has become such a prominent political issue that it drove a failed attempt from the Biden administration to forgive $400 billion in federal student loans. Conversely, the political orthodoxy in higher education has become a major source of culture war consternation and has prompted a raft of restrictive—and unconstitutional—laws from red state legislatures.
However, while the declines in support for higher education are extreme, it’s part of a larger trend of low support for American institutions. Out of 16 institutions, higher education was the fourth-most supported institution in the survey, behind small businesses, the military, and police. Congress was the lowest-ranked institution, with just 8 percent of respondents reporting that they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in it.