Office of Planning and Budgeting

Americans Struggling Economically, Worried about Affordable Higher Ed

That Americans are concerned about the rising price of higher education is not news. However, Public Agenda’s newly released survey results, Slip-Sliding Away: An Anxious Public Talks About Today’s Economy and the American Dream, shed some new light on how the continuing economic crisis may have heightened those concerns. The telephone survey was administered to a representative sample of 1,004 individuals. Among the results:

  • Respondents were most likely (75+%) to say that people with no college degree, working families, and small business owners were struggling ‘a lot’ (compared to ‘a little’ or ‘not at all’) in this economy, whereas only about half of respondents felt that college graduates were struggling a lot in this economy.  Meanwhile, 40% of respondents reported that they themselves were struggling a lot, and, notably, only 10% of respondents felt that those who work on Wall Street were struggling a lot.
  • More than half of respondents (51%) reported that they are very worried about being able to pay for college education for their children, and 27% reported being somewhat worried about being able to afford higher education for their children.
  • When  asked how effective particular policy options might be in helping Americans who are struggling financially, making higher education more affordable received the highest positive response (63%). Also ranking highly (above 50%) were preserving social security and medicare, and expanding job training programs.
  • Respondents reported that Governments and individuals are about equally responsible for helping those Americans who are struggling economically.

Given the dominant news coverage focusing on private institutions with the highest sticker prices, it is important to note that 75% of students enrolled in higher education attend public institutions, which carries a much lower net cost of attendance than private institutions.  For previous OPBlog posts and briefs on this topic and, in particular, the UW’s financial aid and funding issues, see:


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