Confidence In U.S. Universities Plunges To New Lows


Who could have guessed that after multiple Ivy League university presidents publicly humiliated themselves during congressional testimony – and then it broke that Harvard’s president, among others were likely involved in plagiarising key parts of their “academic” work – that confidence in U.S. universities has plunged to a new low?

The data is according to two new national polls commissioned by FIRE and conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Americans were asked “How much confidence, if any, do you have in U.S. colleges and universities?” 

In FIRE’s May poll, 42% of Americans expressed “some” confidence in U.S. colleges and universities, similar to Gallup’s 40%. However, fewer Americans reported “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence (28% vs. 36% in Gallup), while more expressed “very little” or “none at all” (30% vs. 22% in Gallup).

When compared to other institutions, confidence in higher education is on par with the U.S. Supreme Court (27%) and banks (26%). However, Americans have much higher confidence in small businesses (65%) and the military (60%), and much lower confidence in Congress (8%), television news (14%), and the criminal justice system (17%).

Confidence in higher education varies by political affiliation. Over 40% of liberals and Democrats reported high confidence in colleges, a stark contrast to only 12% of conservatives, 12% of Republicans, and 28% of independents.

Notably, significant drops in confidence are seen among young adults (18-34), Democrats, and women. Confidence among 18-34-year-olds fell from 42% to 22%, among Democrats from 59% to 42%, and among women from 39% to 29%. These declines suggest growing disillusionment in groups that previously held higher confidence in higher education.

Confidence in colleges and universities has dropped sharply since last summer, with notable declines following encampment protests in April and May. In February, 31% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in these institutions, which fell to 28% in May. The percentage reporting “very little” confidence remained at 30%, but those with “none at all” rose from 7% to 10%.

Encampment protests, particularly those highlighting the war in Gaza, have coincided with these drops. Major subgroups, including liberals, Democrats, young adults (18-34), college graduates, Republicans, white Americans, and women, all showed reduced confidence since February. No subgroup in May reported a majority with high confidence.

The protests and the responses to them likely influenced these declines. This erosion of trust mirrors broader skepticism towards science and perceptions of universities as politically biased and financially burdensome.

And if you think these results are ugly, just wait until the public hears what’s being taught in economics courses…

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