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A privileged perspective on higher education?

  • Joanna
  • June 7, 2016

An overwhelming majority of Americans of every demographic group say it is “very important” for adults to have a degree or professional certificate beyond high school — and almost everyone (about 95 percent) say that’s “important” to some extent. 

But ask Americans whether it’s important to increase the number of people who have such degrees or certifications, and you get a very different picture.

In a recent Gallup survey, more than 70 percent of black and Hispanic Americans said it is “very important” to help more people earn such degrees. White Americans, meanwhile, agreed at a rate of just 54 percent.  

Does this reflect a privileged perspective on education? Almost certainly. White Americans are, after all, nearly twice as likely to already have a college degree as African Americans, who are in turn significantly more likely to already have a college degree as Hispanic Americans.  

The survey also demonstrated that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to see value in education beyond high school. Nearly 80 percent of people in those demographic groups said higher education was “very important” compared to less than 70 percent of whites.  

The results, derived from the latest Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll on Americans’ opinions about higher education, are worth remembering as states work out how to allocate resources and prioritize programs intended to help create opportunity in the workforce. The people making those decisions, after all, are overwhelmingly white. Among U.S. elected officials, for instance, 90 percent are white, even though whites make up about 63 percent of the population.