Universities Bad for America? Majority of Republicans Think So.

Numerous polls show partisan splits on questions of fact, policy, and value. But multiple readers have noted this eyebrow-raising survey from the Pew Research Center, which finds a majority of Republicans now saying colleges and universities have a negative effect on our country.

The numbers:

  • 36% of the public says that “colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country.”
  • 19% of Democrats and Democratic leaners view colleges and universities negatively.
  • 58% of Republicans and Republican leaners view colleges and universities negatively.

Past Pew research has found Republicans more suspicious of universities than Democrats for years. But Republican opinion of universities took a nosedive in the last two years:

How, in two years, does a group go from holding a majority opinion in favor of colleges and universities to a majority opinion opposed to institutions of higher education?

Digging into that question may turn into predictable shouting about Donald Trump and campus free speech. So let me ask a more local question:

A majority of South Dakotans live in counties with a college or university. South Dakota state government is spending $770 million this year on public universities. Think about those universities in your neighborhood, universities supported by your money, schools that many of us attended and to which we may be sending our kids. If you are among that 58% of Republicans or 19% of Democrats, tell me what harm those institutions do that outweighs their benefits. Tell me how SDSU, USD, DSU, Northern, Black Hills State, and Mines hurt South Dakota.

21 Responses to Universities Bad for America? Majority of Republicans Think So.

  1. Robert McTaggart

    Universities play a vital role for our national defense.

    Note that the highly-trained people responsible for developing all of the fantastic defense technology (from Kevlar all the way to missile defense) required a university education.

    Moreover, the US Air Force ROTC program prioritizes cadets with either technical degrees or foreign languages.


  2. Wayne Fenner

    Being against technical and other higher education is like being against grocery stores. Many Republicans are opposed to knowledge–or knowledge in the minds and hands of the “wrong” people. I shake my head in amazement at the results of this poll.

  3. David Newquist

    This poll is significant in the context of the recent NPR/PBS NewsHouse/Marist poll which finds that 25% of the Republicans surveyed think we have expanded the right to vote too far, 42% think there is too much freedom of the press, and 41% think there is too much freedom to criticize the government.

    There has always been a hard core of Americans who resent colleges and universities. In South Dakota, some farm groups railed against the “arm chair farmers” at the College of Agriculture at SDSU. While there are a considerable number of people who think any education endangers their preferred way of life, there are those who see a danger in the subversion of our educational agencies. The EB-5 scandal was conceived and incubated under regental sponsorship at NSU, and Gear-Up received careful tending from the Dept. of Education. That may be why some do not think our colleges and other educational institutions are beneficial.

    But over the years, there has been a concerted attack on education. People have run and won elections on school boards with pledges to purge the curriculum of “liberal” courses, and many institutions, including the one where I worked two blocks away from my house, have greatly reduced the number of “liberal arts” courses available. One of my specialties was courses in the literature of the immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans. People came from out-of-state for summer school to study those areas. You won’t find them listed in the catalog today, although I note that NSU is asking to institute a new program for Native American studies. Our country has, indeed, emulated Germany of the 1930s. When NPR tweeted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, many Americans thought it was an attack on their country. It was–the country of oppression and ignorance so dear to their hearts and tiny minds. It is hard for us to confront the fact that the anti-democratic forces have been winning.

  4. Donald Pay

    Republicans are sheep. There has been a relentless anti-higher education campaign waged by righty media recently. Added to that are Republican attacks on free speech on campus. Why? Because anyone who voted for Democrats and supports our basic freedoms is suspect by the fascists.

  5. Porter Lansing

    People with a common fear of the unknown and fear of change tend to group. The Republican Party is their “safe space”.

  6. Porter Lansing

    “Ignorance is Strength,” – George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-four” Good one, MFI.

  7. Roger Elgersma

    Having attended four colleges and Universities, I think that the liberal professors are wrongly blamed for lots of kids losing their faith, values, and good view of the world even though some have statistics that suggest this. Statistics with more than one variable are not accurate. I think that these schools desperately want to keep a good reputation and that is why top people in the Student Affairs department get real disgusted about how much rape they are told to cover up. When the students first experience out in the world is a disaster for some, then there is the reaction that the University was the problem just because that is where the problem happened. It is very hard to get statistics on this, but having been there and heard things, this seems to me to be the problem.

  8. Porter Lansing

    Great points, Roger. We’ve all seen parents who ride their teens hard, give little quarter and expect perfection with invalid rewards. Once these kids get from beneath the parent’s thumbs all hell breaks loose. The parents blame the school because any other excuse would reveal their poor parenting techniques.

  9. Vance Feyereisen

    Not painting with a broad brush here but there is a certain amount of arrogance that influences attitudes against education. You know the repubs are experts as taking a grain of truth to support a mountain of hogwash.

  10. Interesting, Roger. I’d suspect it’s much less that profs tear kids away from their values and much more that (as Porter suggests) young people are naturally going to experience a lot of upheaval when they leave home, and profs just happen to be there when it happens.

    But we’ve heard GOP complaints about “those darn liberal professors” for decades (William F. Buckley, George Will…). That anti-liberal-prof attitude didn’t turn into the majority negative view of universities until the last two years. That break was sharp and sudden. What’s going on here? Are we going to see a rash of people not sending their kids to college? An outbreak of new private colleges?

  11. this is just one more leg of the stool republicans have been pulling out under you so the 1% and the 20% can keep screwing the rest of America.

    Journalist Brian Montopoli of Columbia Journalism Review in 2005 labeled MRC “just one part of a wider movement by the far right to demonize corporate media,” rather than “make the media better.” Additionally, Montpoli wrote that, “False equivalence is at the very root of MRC’s beliefs.”[47] wiki

    The 1 %; the 20%…$117,000 annually. while individual members of the 1 percent can swing their money around to great impact, the upper middle class (20%) as a bloc has outsized influence. “[T]he size and strength of the upper middle class means that it can reshape cities, dominate the education system, and transform the labor market,” When their interests are threatened, the members of this class have the social capital to fight back. Real solutions to income inequality require extensive public investment. will find recent cite from Nation…cont.

    a significant portion of annual national wealth gains should be promised to education, housing, health research and infrastructure. That is what Americans and their parents and grandparents have earned after a half-century of hard work and productivity.

    We the American people created the internet, developed and funded Artificial Intelligence and built a massive transportation infrastructure, yet we let just a few individuals take almost all the credit, along with hundreds of billions of dollars. As of 06/08/17, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people….In the eight years since the recession the Wilshire Total Market valuation has more than TRIPLED, rising from a little over $8 trillion to nearly $25 trillion. The great majority of it has gone to the very richest Americans. ALL modern US technology started with — and to a great extent continues with — our tax dollars and our research institutes and our subsidies to corporations. http://billmoyers.com/story/now-just-five-men-almost-much-wealth-half-worlds-population/

  12. MRC, conservative thinky tank Media Research Center’s entire mission is to prove media bias. one more stool leg to pull out.

  13. Don’t trust universities, don’t trust journalism, don’t trust scientists—Leslie reminds me that, contrary to my Limbaugh-misguided fears of the 1990s, it’s conservative Republicans, not liberal Democrats, who are undermining our epistemology and our ability to establish shared, objective truths.

  14. Porter Lansing

    It’s also quite possible that the rejection of mainstream university values is simply backlash because “Darling Ann Coulter” & “Sweetie Milo Yiannopoulos’ weren’t treated with proper social conservative reverence at Berkley. That riled some feathers on the right wing.
    PS … on that note, “SoDak Nice” is a misleading moniker. I’ve lived many places and California people are much “nicer” overall, than Prairie Pothole People. Just ask a Muslim or Mexican. Or … see for yourself. Move there for a couple years. You’ll come back a nicer person. Guaranteed!!! :0)

  15. Oh brother. what a pact of ‘fraidy cats. Only 4% of USMC officers come from an academy. 96% come from the America they represent.

    And how in the wide, wide world of sports did the SD vanilla, in-bred media miss this story?

    Seems that education may not matter here, pun intended.

  16. Roger Cornelius

    These dummed down uneducated Trump voters couldn’t get into a university if their lives depended on it.

  17. I would posit the greatest influencing factor for the shift in perception has been the past couple years worth of media showing protests, sit ins, and the like against conservative speakers. I’m going to bet some of the stories about professors stirring the pot also added to that fire.

    Add that to the reality that institutional costs are climbing above the inflation rate and the average American student graduates with $27,000 in loans and marginal skills to enter the workforce means universities will (rightly or otherwise) be perceived as just taking our money and running. Look at the fancy monuments even our South Dakota universities build. Opulent housing. Shiny glass facade buildings.

    On top of that, universities can’t even pretend to offer balance; liberal professors outnumber conservative professors 12:1. Conservatives don’t get a seat at the table for discussions.

    If 58% of Republicans/lean Republican have significant concerns with our higher education system, that’s a problem. If almost 60% of conservatives have problems with the regental system, perhaps it’s wise to not just write it off as angry yokels.

    Of course, it you could just hold the “I’m better than you and you’re too stupid to have a legitimate concern” like Roger. But if you treat people as though they’re the Other, they’re not likely to support the things you value either.

  18. So protesting conservative speakers leads a majority of Republicans to believe that all other useful features of our higher education institutions are outweighed? Are we going to see a mass exodus of conservative students from universities?

  19. Robert McTaggart

    Ummm….it’s not 12-1 in South Dakota. But I guess it depends on what you mean by conservative…that has shifted to the right over time.

    Every syllabus should have a “freedom in learning” statement included. For example, if you believe global warming is a hoax, you are free to hold that opinion. But if I ask you to calculate the increase in global temperatures based upon the atmospheric model for trapping heat that I include, I will grade on how well you apply the model.

    During class, it is perfectly appropriate to raise questions about what is in or is not in the model, which is why it is important to have different opinions and less group-think. And in fact, incorporating a different model and following to its logical conclusions would be a decent research project. But that doesn’t alleviate one’s responsibility in satisfying the requirements of the assignments as structured.

  20. Robert McTaggart

    And if one thinks there is a bias in the grading based upon one’s beliefs and not the actual performance on the assignments, there is a process that students can follow through the chain of command.