Only 14 percent of Americans highly trust universities, study finds

RENO — Higher education, according to a new study, has grown significantly less trustworthy in recent years. One in five Americans struggles to harbor any confidence in the country’s universities, the data shows.

Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno analyzed survey results obtained from a study with more than 10,000 Americans conducted in early 2014 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

A new study finds that 20 percent of Americans have “hardly any confidence” in the country’s colleges and universities.

The analysis found that while more Americans had a “great deal of confidence” in institutions of higher learning than in Congress (14 percent versus 3 percent, respectively), participants held the general scientific community (19 percent) and the military (26 percent) in higher esteem than colleges.

Twenty percent of Americans had “hardly any” confidence in higher education, while 65 percent held “some” confidence.

The survey, which polled a diverse set of Americans, including both those religious and non-religious, found that one’s level of trust in academia was related to a variety of demographic factors, including race, religion, and political ideology.

For example, 30 percent of those who saw themselves as “extremely liberal” politically expressed a great level of confidence in universities. On the other hand, only five percent of self-identifying as “extreme conservatives” expressed the same sentiment.

“This finding may indicate that much of what drives lower confidence in higher education may be concern about the political bias of professors or the notion that universities represent an elite liberal sphere of society,” the study states.

In terms of faith, believers who felt as if there was a conflict between science and religion were less trusting of universities. More specifically, Jews, Mormons, and Evangelicals were less likely to trust colleges.

“Could it be that members of these religious traditions are concerned that students who are exposed to higher education will become less religious?” the authors write in the study, suggesting that a future study tackle this particular finding.

Racially, blacks were found to be more dubious of universities than other races.

These findings are somewhat shocking, considering that in 2006, a similar study found that 42 percent of Americans “had a great deal of confidence” in higher education. Similarly, a 2013 Gallup poll showed 77 percent of the country believed Americans college offered “high-quality education.”

It is likely that these perceptions of institutions have shifted even more since 2014, particularly amongst minorities and partisans.

The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Higher Education.


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