Many Americans Say U.S. Higher Education System is Inadequate

A majority of Americans say the higher education system in the U.S. fails to provide students with good value for the hefty price tag, according to a pair of surveys by the Pew Research Center released on Sunday.

Of those polled, a whopping 75% said college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. Still, an overwhelming 86% of college graduates said college was worth the investment for them personally.

A majority, 69%, of survey participants said a good work ethic and strong character are imperative to success. Just 42% believe success lies in the hands of a college education.

Student loans, largely managed through federal lender Sallie Mae (NYSE:SLM), have become a big issue for college grads. A record share of students are leaving college these days with a substantial debt burden, and among those who do, about half say that paying off the debt makes it harder to pay other bills.

But is the long-term investment worth it?

Despite the large bill, 94% of parents surveyed said they expect their child to attend college.

Adults who graduated from a four-year college believe on average that they are earning $20,000 more a year than peers that did not attend college. The median gap in annual earnings between a high school and college graduated was reported by the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau at $19,550.

A college education has opened doors for diploma holders into highly competitive tech giants such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). Employers of large corporations often request a college degree for a majority of positions.

Three-quarters of college graduates polled said the four-year education was very useful in helping them grow intellectually. Another 69% said it helped them grow and mature as a person while 55% said it was useful in helping them prepare for a job or career.

Still, challenges remain.

According to another survey of 1,055 two-year and four-year private, public and for-profit colleges and universities, 64% expressed doubt that by 2020 the U.S. will achieve President Barack Obama’s goal of having the highest share of young adults with a college degree of any country in the world.

Many presidents blamed the weaknesses in the system to lenient grading, though a vast majority, 73%, said students are graded about right. Others pointed toward tenure, with seven-out-of-ten saying they would prefer that faculty be employed on annual or long-term contracts.

Only 19% of college presidents say the U.S. system of higher education is the best in the world, and just 7% believe it will be the best in the world in another decade.