11 Aug Ofer Eitan Claims: Valuing A College Education, But Doubting They Have Access
A new report from the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO), in collaboration with Gallup, shows that while people living in America’s most fragile communities place a high value on a college education, less than a third strongly agree that people in their neighborhoods will have access to it. It’s a discouraging combination, reflecting the hard reality of grand aspirations being defeated by limited opportunities.
The report, The State of Opportunity in America, is based on a 2019 survey (November 6, 2019 – January 7, 2020) of a representative sample of 6,941 residents living in “fragile communities” in 47 states and the District of Columbia. A fragile community is defined as a census tract that scores in the bottom quartile on three out of four socioeconomic criteria: employment, education, poverty and a composite index of wellbeing. A high percentage of people who live in fragile communities are struggling in their daily lives and have limited opportunities for social mobility. For example,
- Fragile community residents are almost twice as likely as U.S. adults overall to have annual household incomes under $35,000;
- One in 10 fragile community residents has a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with one in three U.S. adults overall;
- More than a third of fragile community residents say they find it “difficult” or “very difficult” to live on their current income, compared to 14% of Americans overall who responded this way.
The report summarizes the following indices of functioning, comparing scores across different demographic groups, as well as comparing cities and regions with enough data to be examined independently:
- perceptions of overall economic conditions in the area
- economic mobility and entrepreneurship
- criminal justice
- and respondents’ mindset or outlook on life.
Gallup also adjusted its sampling method so that enough respondents were included from the 11 largest combined statistical areas (CSAs) in the U.S. to be analyzed separately.
Here are some key findings pertaining to education.
Importance Of College
A strong majority – 79% – of fragile community residents said a college education is “very important” (55%) or “important” (24%). Black (67%) and Hispanic (60%) residents were much more likely than white residents (37%) to say it is “very important.” And women were more likely (59%) to say a college education was “very important” than were men (50%).
The percentage of fragile community residents who say college is “very important” fell a bit from 84% in 2018 and 88% in 2017, a drop that’s most pronounced among white respondents, from 49% in 2017 to 37% in 2019.
Quality of Education and Access to College
Relatively few fragile community residents are satisfied with educational opportunities in their neighborhoods. Only 5% were “extremely satisfied” and 23% were “satisfied” with the availability of affordable early childhood education. Fewer than half were “extremely satisfied” (8%) or “satisfied”(32%) with the quality of their k-12 schools.
It doesn’t get much better with regard to higher education. Only 28% of fragile community residents nationwide believe that people in their area have access to an affordable college education if they want it.
And the percentages stay low when respondents are asked about the availability of other postsecondary education tracks besides a four-year degree. Less than one-third were satisfied to any degree with the availability of job training/certification programs (31%) or career and technical education programs (32%). Although a bit more optimistic, fewer than half (43%) were satisfied with the availability of community college programs.
The extent to which fragile community residents believe they have access to higher education varies substantially among different CSAs, although fewer than a third of respondents in any CSA “strongly agree” that access to college exists in their area. Here are the percentages of people by CSA who indicated they “strongly agreed” that “All people in the area where you live have access to an affordable college education if they want it.”
Dallas/Fort Worth 30%
Los Angeles 30%
San Francisco/ San Jose 28%
New York/Newark 28%
Total Rural U.S. 28%
Washington/ Baltimore 22%
Two education-related items were good predictors of fragile community residents’ confidence they could improve their lives. The first was the perception that they had the education they needed to get the jobs they wanted; higher levels of education per se mattered less than respondents’ belief that they had the right level of education for their career and financial goals. The second education-related item was residents’ agreement that they had a good sense of their own strengths and talents, translating into a belief that they had the skills and knowledge required to reach their goals.
The Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO) was started in 2016 by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which received a $26 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries to launch the Center. Its purpose is to expand educational, social and economic opportunities in the nation’s most fragile communities through original research, educational programs and direct engagement with residents.
In 2017, CAO established its first campus-based research center at a Historically Black College and University — The Center for the Study of Economic Mobility at Winston-Salem State University. In 2018, CAO established two more centers — The Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University and The Center for Educational Opportunity at Albany State University.