Insights & News

New Survey: Californians Prioritize Higher Education

Public opinion poll shows that Californians want a higher education system that better supports student access and success

Findings from a new statewide opinion survey, released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and funded by College Futures Foundation, reveal that Californians value higher education, desire a higher education system that supports student success, and are interested in leadership on issues impacting low-income students.  

Three out of four Californians see our public higher education system as very important to quality of life and the state’s economic vitality and think it should be a high priority for the next governor. Latinos and African Americans, at over 80%, were even more likely than whites to rate higher education as very important. 

Most respondents said that a four-year degree is very important for financial success—and a majority recognized that low-income students have less opportunity to get a college education.  

“The vast majority of our state’s K–12 students are of color and low-income, yet when it comes to graduates from our public universities, they are in the minority,” said Monica Lozano, President & CEO of College Futures Foundation.  

 “A college degree is key to economic mobility,” she continued. “The survey results show that Californians see that connection—and they see that we do not currently have an educational path to opportunity that’s available to every student, regardless of zip code, skin color, or income.” 

Affordability was a top concern for respondents, with 58% stating that overall affordability was a big problem while an additional 25% identified it as somewhat of a problem. Responses indicated an awareness of the costs of attendance beyond tuition, concern with student debt, and the sense that there is not enough government funding of financial aid for students who need it.  

More than 60% of respondents think that universities should support student success, as opposed to students shouldering that responsibility alone, while more than three-quarters think that public colleges and universities should give priority to local students.  

When asked if they favor tying additional state funding for California’s public universities to student outcomes such as graduation rates, 64% were in favor. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans, 73% of Latinos, 71% of Asian Americans, and 72% of low-income households—as opposed to 54% of whites and 56% of higher-income households—were in favor of such a step.  

“The survey gives us a sense of Californians’ deeply held values and very real concerns about access, success, institutional accountability, and affordability. This post-election moment of transition is a good time to ask ourselves how those could translate into a more unified and student-centric system of higher education, policies targeting better outcomes for low-income students, and strong leadership that champions both,” said Lozano.   

“We often hear California described as a divided state. We are remarkably united when it comes to valuing higher education, and to valuing opportunity and access for all,” Lozano continued.  

 “If we want to close the wide and increasing gaps in college degree completion and employment that divide our residents, we must make systemic, sustainable changes that clear the path for low-income students and students of color to succeed.”