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Bucknell Institute for Public Policy Poll Shows Political Divide on Higher Education

LEWISBURG, Pa. – Results of a new Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) national poll on Americans’ views on higher education finds that Republicans are less satisfied than Democrats with the nation’s state of higher education. The poll showcases deep partisan divides over campus politics, race and diversity issues, and even the main purpose of going to college.

The new BIPP poll, conducted in partnership last month with YouGov, surveyed 1,200 respondents on various higher education issues as tuition, diversity, sexual assault, athletics, and college admissions. Complete results are available online.

“This poll shows clearly that the nation’s current political divide extends to their views on nearly everything related to higher education,” said Chris Ellis, a Bucknell professor of political science and director of the University’s Survey Research Initiative. “It’s not just the hot-button topics like free speech or activism. They disagree on even what the very purposes of college education are in the modern era.”

The Overall State of Higher Education
When asked to grade the current state of higher education in the United States, 58 percent of Democrats say that higher education deserves an A or B, while 35 percent of Republicans feel the same. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans gave higher education a D or F, compared to 13 percent of Democrats. The divide is even greater among partisan college graduates, with 67 percent of Democrats who hold a college degree giving higher education an A or B, compared to 39 percent of college-educated Republicans.

Republicans (45 percent) are also far less likely than Democrats (71 percent) to agree that “a college education is one of the most important steps in achieving the American Dream.”

Affirmative Action and Diversity
At a time when the Trump administration is investigating the role of affirmative action in college admissions decisions, the practice remains deeply unpopular among Republicans and independents. Only 10 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of independents say that prestigious colleges should strive to enroll more racially diverse student bodies. Only about a third of them (28 percent Republicans, 35 percent independents) say that coming from an underrepresented minority group should be an important factor in college admissions.

By contrast, 42 percent of Democrats say that colleges should strive for more racial diversity, and 59 percent say that coming from a racial or ethnic minority group should be an important admissions factor.

Overall, 79 percent of Democrats say that racial and ethnic diversity enhances the college experience, compared to 36 percent of Republicans.

Democrats are also substantially more likely to say that children of undocumented immigrants should be permitted to attend college at lower in-state tuition rates of state residents, with 43 percent favoring such a policy, compared to just 11 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of independents. Sixty-two percent of Republicans strongly oppose such a policy.

Freedom of Expression and Campus Activism
While large majorities of both Democrats (71 percent) and Republicans (85 percent) say that colleges should never prohibit speech on their campuses, there were also stark divides on the current state of freedom of expression on campus.

Eighty-five percent of Republicans, believe that “college students today are too easily offended,” compared with 42 percent of Democrats. Republicans were also far more likely to argue that college professors were too liberal, that professors try to indoctrinate students into their own political views when teaching, and that colleges should strive for more political balance when hiring faculty.

Reactions to the recent rise of student activism on campus also brings partisan divides into sharp focus. Less than a third (31 percent) of Democrats, but nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of Republicans, agree that “student activists and protestors are more trouble than they’re worth.”

The Purposes of Higher Education
Large majorities of Americans think that learning critical thinking skills and preparing for a career are the most important goals of higher education. Seventy-one percent indicated that learning critical thinking skills was a “very important” goal of college education, while 68 percent said that career preparation was “very important.” Far fewer Americans think that learning to become engaged in a community (33 percent), developing skills to fight for social justice (27 percent), or developing an appreciation for art and literature (22 percent) are “very important.”

Republicans and Democrats disagree, however, on what the most important goal of college education is. Nearly half (49 percent) of Republicans thought that “preparing for a successful career” was the most important goal of college, while 32 percent of Democrats thought the same. Forty-five percent of Democrats, on the other hand, said that “developing critical thinking skills” is the most important goal of college, compared to 36 percent of Republicans.

Should College Athletes be Paid?
About a third (37 percent) of Americans answered that college athletes who generate revenue for their universities should be paid for their efforts. People with college degrees (41 percent) were more likely than those without degrees (34 percent) to say that athletes should be paid. Nearly half (47 percent) of Democrats said that athletes should be paid, while only 27 percent of Republicans felt the same.

About the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy
The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) provides a forum for contemporary public policy discussion, a mechanism to support faculty-guided undergraduate research, and an academic home for students pursuing a degree in public policy. Under this interdisciplinary and cross-departmental framework, Bucknell faculty and students focus on particular policy areas including the economy, domestic and international politics, education, health, the environment, and civil society. The Institute supports student and faculty research and provides service to the local community through educational outreach.


CONTACTS: Mike Ferlazzo, 570-577-3212,  570-286-6266 (c),; Chris Ellis, 570-577 1960,

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