The public is losing confidence in higher ed

A recent Gallup poll found confidence in higher education eroding. For the first time in the United States, confidence has dropped below 50 percent, to an average of 48 percent. And trust has declined most precipitously among Republicans: only 39 percent have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in colleges and universities, compared to 62 percent of Democrats.

Why this loss of trust in colleges and universities, and why the widening gap along political lines? For conservatives, colleges are held to be citadels of liberal ideology. Dropping a child off on a college campus feels for many families like dropping them behind enemy lines.

College is the place where society does its thinking. It should be the forge and working house of thought for free individuals in a free society.

Ideology of any stripe stands opposed to the development of free minds. It represents a closed system of thought, beginning with formulated answers, rather than with the posing of questions, which is the true heart of education. To regain the trust of the public, we must affirm our commitment to authentic dialogue and free and open inquiry.

As for Democrats, the decline in confidence centers around the rising expense of higher education, the ballooning of student debt, and the perception that colleges do not prepare students adequately for the workforce.