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October 23, 2015

A new survey from WGBH News finds that the majority of Americans would recommend two-year community college over a four-year program to high school students borrowing for college.

The survey, conducted by Anderson and Robbins Research, asked 1,157 Americans and 811 community college students, "If a high school senior inherited $200,000, would it be better for him or her to spend it on a four-year college or spend some on a community college and save the rest?"

Two thirds of those questioned advised pursuing a community college education and saving the rest of the money, rather than going broke for a four-year degree.

The survey also offers new data on perceptions of community colleges in the U.S. and is part of WGBH News' special reporting series, College Material, which explores attitudes towards these low-cost, open enrollment institutions among American adults and community college students.

Related: Community Colleges: Affordable, Practical, and Increasingly Popular

Here are some of the key findings:

  •  Community colleges are almost universally seen as essential to providing families with opportunities.

  • Americans perceive community colleges as comparable with public universities in terms of quality and better in terms of value. Most people overestimate the cost of community college tuition, even while thinking they provide a great value.
  • Younger students attend community college for different reasons than older students; younger students plan to transfer to four-year colleges, while older students seek to obtain skills to get a better job and earn more money.
  • Affordability is a factor driving 75 percent of community college students’ enrollment.
  • Two-thirds of community college students work. More than half work 30 or more hours a week.

Related: Community College Students Struggle to Balance Jobs and School

  • For community college students who didn’t complete their program, 65 percent cited cost as the reason, followed by family responsibilities (53 percent).

Earlier: Is Free Community College A Public Obligation? 

  • Ninety four percent of Americans say the United States’ higher education system is very important to our global competitiveness.

  • Still, only half say so about community colleges.

  • The vast majority of Americans say they live near a community college, and nearly half have taken classes.

  • And those students who have taken community college classes would recommend them to a friend.

  • In New England, a region rich with four-year private schools, those questioned were less likely to think they lived near a community college.

Using survey data and interviews with community college students and education experts, College Material aims to get a fuller picture of how well community colleges are meeting their students’ needs and the demands of America’s workforce. 

Our series will appear on the On Campus blog and on-air each day beginning Monday, October 26 through Friday, October 30 on 89.7 WGBH Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

National Survey of Americans:

National Survey of Community College Students:

confronting cost, community colleges, increasing access and success, global competitiveness

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