University Week Staff Report
Residents in Washington view their public colleges and universities as high-quality institutions that make significant contributions to their state’s economy, according to survey data released this week by the American Council on Education (ACE).
The Washington study was conducted in conjunction with a national opinion survey on the value, cost, and quality of the nation’s public higher education institutions. The national survey of 700 adults in the United States was conducted in late October and early November 2001 by KRC Research & Consulting on behalf of ACE. (The margin of error is 3.7 percent.) The random-sample survey of 400 Washington adults was conducted in November. (The margin of error is 4.9 percent.)
The Washington survey is one of two state surveys conducted to gauge the opinions of local residents and compare their views to national opinions. The two states — Washington and North Carolina — were selected because they both have well-established public higher education systems and relatively low tuition structures, and the two provided geographic diversity for the study.
Jack Faris, UW vice president for university relations, said President Richard L. McCormick expressed his strong support when he was approached last summer to ask if he would be interested in having the survey done in Washington. Faris served on a working group that helped design the survey instrument
“We are a public institution, and it’s important for us to understand how the public sees higher education in general and the University of Washington in particular,” Faris said. “We are seeking to serve all the state’s citizens and we need to know whether we are recognized for doing that.”
This is the first time an ACE survey has concentrated only on public colleges and universities; earlier surveys by the organization — conducted in 1998 and 2000 — examined opinions on all higher education institutions, both public and private.
In general, findings in Washington mirror sentiments nationwide — both state and national respondents express strong support for public colleges and universities.
Seventy-two percent of Washington respondents rated the quality of education at their public colleges and universities as “excellent” or “good.” In comparison, on the national survey 70 percent of respondents rated institutions in this way. In addition, Washington residents, like those nationwide, believe public universities in their state are a good value (80 percent of Washington residents and 83 percent of national respondents).
In addition, a majority of Washington residents (65 per-cent) said that if the governor and Legislature were looking for ways to cut state spending, they would oppose reducing funding for public universities — slightly lower than the 69 percent that expressed opposition to cuts in the national survey.
“In a time of considerable challenge for the United States and certainly for Washington, the strong support for higher education is certainly gratifying and encouraging,” Faris said. “We’re particularly pleased that the majority of the people said they would support a tuition increase provided financial aid kept pace.”
Among the report’s other key findings:
Institutions Viewed as Major Contributor to State’s Economy
More than four out of five Washingtonians (84 percent) believe their public colleges and universities make significant economic contributions to the state’s economy, compared with 76 percent of national respondents.
A significant majority of Washington respondents believe good public universities are important to providing a well-trained workforce (85 percent); enhancing research and technology (82 percent); keeping the state technologically competitive (79 percent); and attracting businesses and employers (70 percent).
When asked specifically about the University of Washington, 90 percent of respondents say they view research at the institution as important to the state. Eighty percent of those surveyed agree that the University provides health, economic, and educational benefits to state residents.
Washington Residents Overestimate Cost of Attending College
- Washington respondents estimate the average annual tuition at a public college or university in the state to be $10,010 — more than two and a half times the actual tuition of $3,977 for undergraduate residents.
- Washington residents also overestimate the average yearly total price of attending a public university as $20,389 (including tuition and fees, room and board, books, and other expenses) — 48 percent higher than the actual annual average of $13,742.
Funding Support for Washington Campuses
- Most Washington residents (56 percent) believe that public institutions in their state try to maintain affordability, compared with 63 percent of national respondents.
- Most respondents appeared to be satisfied with current state funding for public colleges and universities. Less than half of the survey respondents in Washington (39 percent) and nationally (48 percent) say they would favor increased state spending for campuses.
- Seventy-two percent of Washington residents said that if budget cuts at the UW were required due to declining state finances, they would support a plan to increase tuition for students whose families could afford to pay more and provide additional financial aid to students who could not afford to pay more.
“The survey demonstrates that Washingtonians clearly value higher education and want to see its quality maintained,” said ACE President David Ward.
The American Council on Education is a comprehensive association of the nation’s colleges and universities dedicated to higher education issues and advocacy on behalf of quality higher education programs.