Higher education is worth the cost, Floridians say in new poll

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Most Floridians feel that a college education is a good investment — and one that will continue to pay off in the future, according to new survey results from the University of Florida’s Center for Public Issues Education.

The center, based in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, found that while more than half of the survey respondents said college is too expensive and 20 percent expect costs to increase, 77 percent of respondents with a college degree said higher education is a good investment and 85 percent believe a degree will continue to pay off financially.

PIE Center researchers asked state residents for their opinions of public higher education in Florida in connection with the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, federal legislation that created the land-grant university system. The respondents, 523 Floridians ages 18 and older, weighed in on issues such as affordability, employment impact and personal experience.

Residents indicated that while higher education is a cost not many can afford, a college degree is an essential investment, said Alexa Lamm, an assistant professor who designed the online survey to give a demographically representative sample of Florida’s population.

Being unable to afford higher education and needing to support a family were the primary reasons some respondents said they did not attend college, Lamm said. Of the 30 percent of respondents who did not seek a college education, more than 70 percent said financing was a concern.

Of those without a diploma, 72 percent felt that a completed college education would increase their wages — by more than $50,000 annually, in some cases.

Of the 26 percent of Floridians in the study who relied on student loans to pay for their education, more than half remain in debt. Twenty percent said they haven’t begun repaying their loans, while 33 percent are making payments.

The study shows that the burden of college loans follows students after they leave the university, PIE Center Director Tracy Irani said. Almost 60 percent of respondents said their student loans made it harder to pay other bills or make ends meet, and 41 percent reported that debt made it harder to purchase a home.

About nine out of 10 parents who responded to the survey said they believe their child will go to college and 56 percent have saved money for tuition. Of the parents who said they are saving, 60 percent believe they are making at least “adequate” progress toward that goal.

Through its survey, the PIE Center collected data about Floridians’ perceptions about online degrees and the role higher education plays in local communities and economies. More information can be found on the center’s special report webpage, www.piecenter.com/highered.

Other survey findings:

  • More than 50 percent of Floridians believe that getting an online degree to be as worthwhile as one earned by attending in person, but only 33 percent believe their employer would agree.
  • Although public higher education is an important issue to Floridians, they are more concerned with the economy, health care and public K-12 education.
  • Almost 45 percent of respondents believe a college education is useful in preparing for the workforce and obtaining a job. Sixty percent reported that a college education is “very useful” in increasing one’s knowledge and personal growth.
  • Fifty-four percent of Floridians said the state’s higher education system is doing a good or excellent job at providing academic programs that meet the needs of today’s economy.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.