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Third Annual WGU Texas Higher Education Poll Finds Texans Anxious About Need for More Education

News Brief - 10/26/17

For a Third Consecutive Year Student Debt Remains a Major Problem

AUSTIN — The third annual WGU Texas Higher Education Poll released today shows that a majority of Texans (62 percent) who don’t view their job as a career believe they need more education or training to move ahead. Even among those with a college degree, more than half (54 percent) say they require more education.

For three consecutive years, the poll shows that most Texans believe affordability and student debt (73 percent) remain major obstacles to earning a degree among those who lack one. However, of those polled who say student debt is a major problem, 95 percent believe that having a degree beyond high school is either “very important” (72 percent) or “somewhat important” (23 percent.)

“These numbers support what we see every day. Our student body, made up mostly of non-traditional learners, need access to high quality, post-secondary programs that will ultimately increase their earning power,” said WGU Texas Chancellor Steven Johnson. “They need a path to higher education that is flexible and affordable, and financial aid to cover the costs of earning their degrees,” said Johnson. “WGU Texas is proud to commission this poll as a public service offering lawmakers, the public and the media a snapshot of how Texans view the many aspects surrounding public higher education.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to being prepared to attend college, most Texans think their high schools do a good job getting students ready for college-level work. When asked if they would advise a high school senior to go to college, a majority (67 percent) answered “definitely yes.”

Additionally, when it comes to getting support to pay for college, the third annual edition of the poll found the share of Texans who think that the state’s colleges and universities provide enough financial aid for students wanting to earn a college degree decreasing: from 52 percent in 2015, to 46 percent in 2016, to 40 percent in 2017. When asked about the state’s overall investment in higher education, 52 percent of Texans say that state government spends too little, 27 percent say it spends the right amount. Only 7 percent say it spends too much.

The poll, commissioned by the nonprofit, accredited online university and conducted from August 8 – 15, was drawn from a telephone survey of 800 Texas adults (margin of error +/- 3.46 percent). The survey was designed and conducted by public opinion researchers James Henson, Ph.D. and Joshua Blank, Ph.D.

Despite concerns regarding the state’s investment in higher education, Texans have an overall positive view of state-run colleges and universities. In fact, for three consecutive years, this poll has shown that Texans are pleased with their higher education options in the state, with 33 percent saying that their options for attending college in Texas are excellent, 51 percent rating their options as good, while only one percent rated their options as poor.

“The 2017 poll provides a clear view of the importance Texans attach to higher education in all aspects of life,” said James Henson, one of the poll’s designers. “From the micro-level of personal satisfaction to the macro-level of the development of the state’s workforce, Texans believe that good things come from higher education, and believe the state should invest in making post-secondary education accessible to Texans.”

Key WGU Texas Higher Education Poll findings:

  • A large majority, (90 percent) of Texans agree for Texas’ economy to compete with other states, it is essential to have an educated workforce.
  • Most Texans (62 percent) who don’t view their current job as a career say they need more job training to get ahead. Among those with a college degree, 54 percent say they needed more education or training.
  • For a third year in a row, costs remain a significant concern for Texans who don’t have a college degree and student debt (73 percent) continues to be viewed as a “major problem.”
  • 88 percent said that their college education was useful in preparing them for their job or career. 

  • Most Texans (59 percent) believe that taking a gap year after high school for personally growth is not a good idea. Generally, those with less formal education were more supportive of a gap year.
  • When it comes to ensuring that public schools prepare students for college work, most Texans (59 percent) say state government is not doing enough.
  • Among Texans who have earned a college degree, 78 percent say that the cost of their degree either has, or will, pay off. 

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board set a goal for 60 percent of young adults, ages 25-34, to obtain a certificate or college degree by 2030 to meet a highly-skilled workforce. However, this survey shows that at a time when the state needs more Texans with college and post-secondary degrees, affordability is a consistent issue.

For the past two legislative sessions, the Texas House took up a bill sponsored by the Higher Education Chairman that would allow greater access to state financial aid programs for nontraditional students who currently don’t have access for state financial aid. Although the legislation did not pass, WGU Texas and other supporters will continue to push for greater financial aid for this growing group of adult learners who are the new majority of students in higher education.

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