Is college necessary? It turns out about half of Californians don’t think so, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California survey.
And the difference of opinions among ethnic groups is even more surprising: While two-thirds of Latinos answer yes, a slight majority of Asian- and African-Americans think so — but only 35 percent of whites agree.
The same disparity holds across different income groups, too: Almost 60 percent of those from households earning less than $40,000 say college is necessary, while only 42 percent from households making at least $80,000 agree.
So what’s behind the numbers? For one, the mounting costs of a college degree and mountains of student debt are big factors behind the growing cynicism, experts say. Another reason: It’s human nature for one group (whites) to underestimate the value of something that comes easier (college access) than it does for others.
But while Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg managed to do just fine without a degree, that’s hardly a recipe for the rest of us. Not everyone has a safety net that makes dropping out of college in the hopes of becoming a tech titan a feasible option, said Audrey Dow, senior vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity.
Students of color generally don’t have access to the same wealth and capital as their white peers, she said, and their families view college as a path forward.
White families, on the other hand, are more likely to have sent several generations to college and might not recognize that some of their success is due to higher education.
Lower income families may be “feeling like something about their own training falls short,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California. “Most people earning over $80,000 think there are many ways to succeed. Obviously many do have college degrees, but maybe they feel their own personal qualities or social networks account for that.”
The survey of more than 1,700 California adults between Oct. 8-17 also found significant gaps between native-born Californians and noncitizen residents on the question of whether college is necessary, with 75 percent of noncitizen California residents saying college is crucial to success and just 38 percent of native-born California residents agreeing.