Partisan danger signs emerge over the role of higher education

Most Americans agree education is good and the more of it you get the better, even if yours is less than more. Income, world view, social standing, job prospects, etc.

But recent years have seen a growing split among many Americans about the overall value of universities to the country.

Even in a sellers market, which universities have enjoyed (and abused) for generations, school leaders who care about their long-term future, might want to take serious note of this widening partisan gap.

Here’s the rather shocking findings of a new Pew Research Center survey: Only half of Americans believe that the country’s once-universally-revered institutions of higher learning are having a positive effect on the nation’s well-being.

The portion of Americans saying those institutions have had a negative impact on life has jumped by almost half in recent years, from 26 percent way up to 38 percent.

This significant shift in opinion has come largely among political independents and Republicans. And it’s been big.

While the opinions of independents and Democrats have stayed rather stable and positive, those independents and conservatives seeing a negative effect from universities and colleges has soared by more than 20 points, from 37 to a clear majority 59 percent.

The Gallup people also uncovered a similar shift among party partisans and independents.

A previous Pew study found an overwhelming majority of Americans think higher education in the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction.

Even the reasons for this wrong direction reflect the country’s sharp partisanship.

Democrats, for instance, see the problem as rising costs. You might even call them soaring costs. And you’ve heard during the current Democratic primary races their skewed and unequal responses centering on forgiving and assuming the debts.

They have a definite point about costs. From 1980 to 2014, for example, average consumer cost increases were 120 percent. College tuitions, however, jumped more than twice as much, by 260 percent. Sellers’ market.

Almost eight-in-ten Republicans (79 percent) are bothered most by teachers permeating lessons with their own liberal political and social views. That bothers only 17 percent of Democrats.

Additionally, three-quarters of Republicans (but only 31 percent of Democrats) say universities invest way too much time and resources in protecting students from views the institutions think might offend the young people.

Strangely, some people believe that college should not be a period of indoctrination. That education, especially at modern prices, should be an enlightening intellectual experience involving exposure to many different things, so individuals become capable of making their own intelligent choices later.

If you can imagine such a thing.