Why a college education doesn't matter anymore

Those contrasting responses from Parkinson, who is white, and Stathas, who is Hispanic, point to one of the most intriguing findings in a new College Board/National Journal Next America Poll. While minorities worry more than whites about affording the cost of higher education, they are more likely to see a payoff from the investment for themselves and for the country overall.

The survey, which measures assessments of the pathways to opportunity, found broad agreement among whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans that the U.S. still provides young people from any racial background an adequate chance to succeed—and that the primary and secondary schools in their neighborhood are preparing them to do so. But on several fronts, the poll said minorities were considerably more optimistic than whites that more access to education will mean more opportunity, both personally and throughout the economy.

Solid majorities of Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and, to a slightly lesser extent, African-Americans all agreed that “young people today need a four-year college degree in order to be successful.” Slightly fewer than half of whites endorsed that sentiment. That was a sharp drop among whites just since fall 2012, when the Next America survey last measured these attitudes. Minorities were also far more likely than whites to say the economy would benefit if the United States meets President Obama’s goal of increasing by half the share of Americans with postsecondary degrees through 2020. “The higher the education mark, the more competitive we’re going to be in the world economy,” Stathas said. “There’s a lot of talk of the rise and fall of the U.S. Unless we step it up a notch, there are going to be parts of the world that eat our lunch.”