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Survey Says: Free Online Community College Is An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Americans are less confident in higher education than they have ever been, a new study says, with just over half believing that it is having a positive effect on the country. That’s down 14 points since 2020.

Yet a solid majority of Americans, 64%, believe that adults need some kind of diploma or certificate after high school in order to make a good living, and 85% believe that community colleges contribute to a strong workforce.

They are also increasingly coming to believe in the potential of online education, with nearly half — 47% — saying that “the quality of online education is about the same as in-person instruction,” which is a substantial increase from just a year ago. (17% of currently enrolled students said that online instruction is actually better in quality, on average, than in-person classes.)

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The greatly improved reputation enjoyed by online education could reflect the move to virtual and hybrid teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic and the ways in which both students and professors adjusted, according to a report on the survey findings. ‘I expected some shift, but I didn’t expect this substantial increase,’ said Sophie Nguyen, a policy analyst with New America who is one of the report’s authors. ‘It is significant.’”

But while Americans increasingly believe in the quality of online college, 4 in 5 also believe that it should be cheaper than traditional colleges.

This is consistent with the data we at Calbright have been tracking which shows that potential students strongly believe in the ability of colleges to enhance their careers, but are increasingly cost-conscious about their options. They’re hunting for a good value that fits their lives, and are more willing to wait until they find one.

Perhaps that’s why the survey also shows that “The only institutional types that a majority of Americans are comfortable supporting with taxpayer dollars are public colleges and universities and MSIs (Minority Serving Institutions).” A full 79% support government spending on community colleges — the highest percentage of any kind of college.

Ultimately the survey suggests that what Americans want is free online community college, the kind that Calbright provides to Californians.

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