Two years ago, 54 percent of Republicans told Pew colleges had a positive impact on the direction of the country, according to that survey. That fell to 43 percent last year and 36 percent this year. Democrats, meanwhile, have gradually become more positive about higher education, with 72 percent this year viewing higher ed as having a positive effect, up from 65 percent in 2010.
Even so, observers on both the left and the right said the Education Next findings are interesting but not necessarily surprising.
“I’m not that surprised because we’re polling parents,” said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at the progressive think tank Demos, which has been a major advocate for free tuition in public higher education. “By and large they aspire for their children to get a four-year degree.”