Survey suggests need for campus innovation

Campus leaders must think outside the box to keep U.S. higher education ahead of the rest of the world and also control costs, survey respondents said.

A majority of Americans still believe that college is very or extremely important in order to experience the “American Dream,” according to a national survey that paints a picture of how higher education is viewed today. But 83 percent of respondents also believe that U.S. colleges and universities must “innovate” to remain globally competitive and keep down costs.

Last October, Northeastern University asked FTI Consulting to conduct 1,001 telephone interviews across the country to examine Americans’ views of college today. The survey, “Innovation Imperative: The Future of Higher Education,” revealed that nationally, 70 percent of Americans think that college is either extremely important or very important, and three out of four older Americans think that college degrees are more important today than in previous generations.

“Higher education is not standing still. When you hear higher education is not moving fast enough—think again,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University.

But the survey found an evident discrepancy between parents’ wishes for their children to attend college, and the current number of students who actually attend college.

Eight out of 10 people surveyed who identified themselves as having at least one child under the age of 18 believe it is “extremely likely” that their child will attend college, yet 64 percent of the 18- to 30-year-olds surveyed reported opting to postpone or not attend college at all. Both younger and older groups acknowledged the heightened obstacles that today’s students face, such as cost, navigating the complex financial aid processes, and allocating the time and resources needed to complete college degrees.

On Nov. 27, Northeastern University and the Governance Studies program at Brookings Institute hosted a panel of higher-education stakeholders who discussed and analyzed the survey results—and what they mean for U.S. colleges.

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