Do Americans Value Higher Education?


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired June 2, 2022

With the midterm elections looming and the debate over who benefits from student loan forgiveness heating up, what are voters thinking about the value of a college education in 2022? Kristen Soltis Anderson, pollster and author of The Selfie Vote, joins the podcast to talk about the American public's perception of higher education. Does the noise in the media reflect what people—especially millennials and Gen Z—really think? Is there a split between what people view as good for their own families and what they think is important for society overall, and how has this changed over time? What are the partisan divides on this issue?

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

From the introduction

How Soon to Expect Biden's Debt Relief Plan
Inside Higher Ed | May 26, 2022

College Enrollment Drops, Even as the Pandemic's Effects Ebb
The New York Times (sub. req.) | May 25, 2022

From Part 2 with Kristen Soltis Anderson

Pollster: Colleges Must Show Clear Return on Investment
Diverse: Issues In Higher Education | March 6, 2022

Not All Americans Think College Is Worth It
Inside Higher Ed | Nov. 13, 2021

The Growing Partisan Divide in Views of Higher Education
Pew Research Center | August 19, 2019

New Research Reveals Millennials and Generation Z Believe American Dream Is Possible
Walton Family Foundation | October 6, 2020

This episode was brought to you as part of the Discover the Next initiative, a joint project of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, ACE, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This project will help colleges and universities share the many benefits that higher education has on individual lives, communities, and society as a whole.


 Read this episode's transcript

Jonathan Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council On Education. This episode is brought to you as part of the Discover The Next Initiative, a joint project of the Council For Advancement In Supportive Education, ACE, and the Association Of Governing Boards Of Universities And Colleges. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This project will help colleges and universities share the many benefits that higher education has on individual lives, communities, and society as a whole. Go to to learn more. And as we think about the value proposition of American higher education, we're going to be joined a little bit later in the show by Kristen Soltis Anderson, who is a prolific speaker, pollster, commentator. She's the author of the book, The Selfie Vote, Where Millennials Are Leading America And How Republicans Can Keep Up. And she appears regularly on CNN, other network news programs, and hosts her own Sirius XM show, The Trend Line With Kristen Soltis Anderson. So she's going to be a very engaging, I think, very informative, very fun guest to have on. Looking forward to that discussion.

But before we get to Kristen, I am joined as always by my illustrious colleagues, Mushtaq Gunja, and Sarah Spreitzer. We are here on a roastingly hot day in Washington, DC. Besides the heat Sarah, because I know you want to talk about the heat, but besides the heat, how are you doing?

Sarah Spreitzer: Good. Good, Jon. And I was going to ask, since we're going to talk about millennials, since we are all Gen Xers, I believe, can we just spend some time complaining about Gen Z and millennials?

Mushtaq Gunja: Am I a Gen Xer?

Sarah Spreitzer: Can we do that?

Mushtaq Gunja: How old you need to be to be a Gen Xer?

Sarah Spreitzer: I don't know. We accept you as one of our own, Mushtaq.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. I'm going to be very upset if you're young enough that you're not Gen X. That's kind of make me upset in many ways.

Sarah Spreitzer: Speaking of Gen Z, they're all graduating. There's a lot of graduations going on last weekend and this weekend. And that's really great. It's always great to see those pictures and the joy that those graduates feel once they get out of school. So it's really nice, especially being in DC with so many colleges. Seeing the GW grads walk around downtown is always nice.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. I see a lot of graduates who come to the Capital grounds actually to do the Capital as a backdrop and they're in their robes. And particularly on days like today, I appreciate their commitment to the photo because it cannot be easy to wear those robs and those hats in this heat and stand for the photos. I actually went to my nephew's graduation a couple weeks ago and I was very excited because the DC weather was supposed to be about 94 degrees that day. And his graduation ceremony was in New Hampshire, up in the white mountains. Unfortunately it was about 89 degrees there for some reason, so I couldn't even escape the heat by going all the way up to New Hampshire. But lovely ceremony. Very, very proud and happy for him.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, and of course this weekend we saw President Biden was a commencement speaker at the University Of Delaware, a proud ACE member. And the White House had kind of teased a bit that they were going to announce the student debt forgiveness plan, right Jon?

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. And I don't know if this was the White House itself teasing it. There were a lot of reports towards the end of last week, which was interesting in that you started to hear these reports that the president wanted to announce this when he gave his commencement speech at the University Of Delaware. But then you talked to people, particularly people on the hill, who you would assume being political announcement coming from the administration, certainly they would give a heads up to their majority partners in Congress. It really didn't seem to get around. So if this was something, it was relatively closely held that they were going to do that. Of course, regardless, we had the tragedy in Uvalde, last week. And I think rightfully so, there was a lot of concern that making major announcements on the heels of that, where attention should rightly be focused on the challenges obviously that we face in this area as a country delayed it. But, that leaves on this side, the fact that it could happen at any moment now. If you had one key event to tie to that event has passed, I guess everything's up on the table. Mushtaq, What do you think? Are we going to get an announcement? We're recording this on a Tuesday. Is it going to happen later today now that the weekends over?

Mushtaq Gunja: I really don't think so. I mean, so I'm curious what you two think and how imminent you think an announcement of this sort might be. But if I were a betting man, I think I'd put the over under on when this is going to happen at July 15th. I don't know. I feel like I have not heard as many details about exactly how this thing is going to work, who would qualify, what would happen on the back end? I mean, there's some significant work I think that probably needs to get done. So I mean, I don't know, I could be wrong. But I put the over under July 15th. Jon, Sarah, would you take the sooner than that or later than that?

Jonathan Fansmith: So I'm going to take the, I don't know, I guess the sooner. I'm just trying to think of how that works on the over under. So the sooner, and my guess is the reports we keep hearing, the administration is saying 125,000, maybe $150,000 is an income threshold. If the goal of this is to do this for the election, it's going to take time for them to figure out which borrowers qualify, especially if they have to apply for forgiveness. So you want to get it in place where people are seeing benefits before November, there's a real incentive to start doing it sooner rather than later. But Sarah, what do you think?

Sarah Spreitzer: I'm glad you said that Jon, because I'm going to take longer. And I think that we should actually like bet a fancy lunch on this. Like maybe the Palm, because I think it...

Mushtaq Gunja: Not just salad Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, Mushtaq will just get a salad. Because, part of me thinks just based on the reaction that people had to the fact that they might only forgive $10,000 in student loan debt and people pushing back on that idea. I'm wondering if this was to like test the waters, right? Like let's put this out here and see what the reaction is. And then they can kind of tweak the plan. And I think you're right. It is going to take time for them to figure out how they would actually implement this. How they would figure out income levels? And so I will take after July 15th. I just think this Department of Education has a lot on their plate. We were talking earlier, we were supposed to see the Title IX regulations, and now they're saying June, just broadly, June. And so that's a lot to happen in June, right? To announce student loan debt forgiveness, and release the Title IX regulations.

Jonathan Fansmith: And the department's also looking at doing regulations around section 504, the Rehabilitation Act, how students with disabilities and staff with disabilities are treated. So on top of all these other regulatory projects, we've been talking the department's doing, it's a great point. They've got a lot on their plate and more clearly to come in the next month or so.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And Congress is going to be busy this summer, too, Jon. We were just talking that my favorite bills, the American Competes Act and the US Innovation And Competition Act, they're still being conferenced. Staff are working furiously on trying to work out differences to try and pass it before a conference bill by July 4th. I know that the Dems are interested in holding a bunch of hearings to kind of highlight things for the midterms. Appropriations, right? They have to mark up the National Defense Authorization Act this June. We'll see a lot of amendments on that. So I'm thinking we're going to be pretty busy until August.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. Although I'm always a little amused by the Congress has to, if anything, this Congress has demonstrated over the last few congresses, the things they have to do don't necessarily have to be done. We've seen a lot of deadlines slipping and slipping and slipping over the last few years.

Sarah Spreitzer: No, all my bills have to be done because I'm taking vacation in August and I don't want to worry about it, so-

Jonathan Fansmith: I was actually talking with somebody yesterday about the recent trend, which I totally get, but also totally hate, where either congressional staffers will say, "Here's a major bill. We're sharing it with you on July 30th. Please get us our feedback beginning of September." So they can go and enjoy their August vacation. Department of Ed, I think is three years running now where there's been a regulatory...

Sarah Spreitzer: Yes.

Jonathan Fansmith: ... proposal that has to be commented on over the August break. I'm beginning to take it personally. I think working with us maybe is making them spiteful and this is the process, but it might just be as simple as they get to enjoy their vacations while we have to work-

Mushtaq Gunja: No, I'm sure it's about you, Jon. What else could it be?

Sarah Spreitzer: I was just thinking, maybe we should have some sort of call in option for these shows and see if we can get a department of ed listener or a congressional staffer to call us directly and give us their thoughts.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. I don't think you want that.

Sarah Spreitzer: No.

Jonathan Fansmith: No, right? Be careful the questions you ask, right?

Mushtaq Gunja: That said, everybody should email the show and we will put the email address in the show notes, if you have feedback. Always are looking for that feedback. Hey, one small thing that I was looking at was the most recent student Clearinghouse data because they report as they always do on sort of enrollment trends and good news and bad news in that report. If I was reading it right, it looked like total undergrad enrollment was down some 4.7 percent, which is of course bad news, but there was some good news in there. First time freshman enrollment was actually up by about 4 percent. So maybe we're seeing a little bit of a rebound, which would be welcome news. So, we'll keep an eye on that of course.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah. I thought that data was actually really fascinating because some of the things seemed very obvious. Clearinghouse pointed out that the biggest declines were states in the Northeast and Midwest, which is not a shock because those are states that have for decades seen declining population. So we knew there was going to be declining numbers of college age students in those states. So not a surprise. The first time freshman enrollment being up is a great sign. If people are worried about a hangover from the pandemic or students who are afraid to engage, this speaks to the contrary that. The flip side is, and the thing that I think's the most troubling about this is the single largest group of students who are not coming back to higher education or not starting in higher education are Black students, and that the Black student population's down 6.5 percent.

I mean, we've talked about this, the pandemic we're really worried early on that a lot of the gains we've made in promoting access among underrepresented populations was going to be wiped out by the pandemic. I think we also thought once the pandemic subsided, those sort of efforts would kind of bring the boat back up. And you look at those numbers and that's really concerning because this might not be a pandemic issue at all. And I think schools are going to have to think very, very hard about how they're serving and reaching those populations.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, no question about it. I mean probably the pandemic did not help, but it's certainly not completely attributable. It doesn't seem to the pandemic. So much left to research, much left to sort of think about there. But yeah, you're no fooling. We've got some work to do on the access side for sure.

Jonathan Fansmith: Well, and luckily we are going to be joined very shortly by somebody who's going to be able to help us talk about how we talk to students and how we talk to the public and how we that, and address maybe some of these concerns we're hearing about, when we're joined after the break by Kristen Soltis Anderson. So stay tuned for what's going be a very good conversation.

Jonathan Fansmith: And welcome back. We are joined by a very special guest, Kristen Soltis Anderson, as I teased at the opening of the podcast, as an expert in many, many areas and a pollster, and someone very familiar to ACE, having most recently spoken at our annual meeting in San Diego to a packed house of I think very wrapped listeners. So Kristin, before we get too deep into what we want to talk with you about, just want to say welcome and thank you for joining us today.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Thank you so much for having me.

Jonathan Fansmith: So as we have you here, one of these things you have your finger on the pulse of how people feel about a range of issues. Obviously we care a lot about higher education. But the topic everyone's talking about right now, we talked about student loan forgiveness, but all of this sort of boils down to this idea about the value proposition of higher education. Is higher education worth it? Even pre-pandemic this was something you started to hear more and more about. So I guess just to get us started, can you talk a little bit about what you've seen, what you've heard, what the public seems to be thinking about this? Is it shifting in some way? Is the noise in the media reflecting what actual people you talk to are feeling and seeing and hearing too.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: There's the big disconnect between what people say they sort of want for their own children or what they think is important for themselves and in their own families, and what they think is important overall. So in general if you ask people, how important is a college education today, is it very important, fairly important or not too important? If you ask people that 10 years ago, seven in 10, according to Gallup's polling said, it is very important to have a college education. But that number has fallen. And as you note, it's not just a pandemic thing, that actually by 2019, you had only about half of Americans saying that it was very important. Again, that's not to say that they do not have those aspirations for their own children, perhaps. But rather that there is, I think concern of, well, what do you need to succeed in the workplace and what do you need to succeed in life? And is college the only, or best way to obtain those skills?

So I think for a lot of people, there's still quite a bit of importance placed on getting an education, but there are more and more people, and you'll find it across the political spectrum who do wonder, well, does everybody need to go to college? And how essential is it for success in the modern world?

Jonathan Fansmith: And it's interesting, you mentioned across the political spectrum because having worked in higher education for a couple decades at this point, support for education, particularly going to college and getting a college degree, used to be very bipartisan. And we're beginning to see, particularly in the last four or five years, I think more of a partisan divide about, again, this idea, the value of college, should you go to college? Is that reflected in the data you're seeing?

Kristen Soltis Anderson: A bit. So you, on the one hand do see more of a decline in say confidence in higher education among Republicans. Gallup has asked U.S. adults, they asked in 2015, and then again in 2018, how much confidence do you have in higher education? And in just that three year span, there was very little change among Democrats, but there was a 17 point drop among Republicans. So the concerns that I think Republicans and Democrats have about higher education look pretty different. For Republicans, the concerns are a blend of sort of cultural worries, to what extent are institutions of higher education leading our country off track when it comes to sort of cultural or social issues and norms. But there's also a big piece of Republicans increasingly becoming a party of non-college educated or sort of working class Americans. And so you've seen a lot of Republican focus on things like, let's empower those without college degrees.

You recently here in Maryland, had governor Larry Hogan say, "We're no longer going to require a college degree for a variety of different jobs in state government." And that was met by a lot of applause from many folks on the right, who are no big fans of Larry Hogan on other fronts. But that seems to be sort of the Republican frustration. It's a mix of have colleges and universities gone too far to the left? And what about those who do not pursue a higher education who do choose to enter a trade, who do choose to just go straight into the workforce? For Democrats, it's more about the, what am I paying for versus what am I receiving? So, is this something that is accessible to all? Is it something that everyone can partake in? How much debt do I have to take on in order to fully reap the benefits of this institution? And then when I get out with my degree, is the workforce and the economy actually rewarding me for those skills, or are inequalities still being exacerbated?

So there are concerns that may look a little different depending on which side of the isle you are looking at. But, both of these require that colleges and universities do a great job of saying, "Here is why we matter, and here is the value that we provide to everyone who walks through our doors. And here's the value that we provide, not just to those who are our students, but to the communities around our institutions, etcetera."

Sarah Spreitzer: So Kristen, is that kind of across the board? Are we talking just four year institutions, or does that extend to community colleges and certificates and kind of all the things that we think of when we think of post-secondary education? And then also related to that question, you talked a bit about what colleges can be doing on messaging, but are there things that we need to emphasize when we're talking to young voters about the value of higher ed?

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So I think I would separate out the conversation around higher ed along a couple different axis. So first there is, are we talking community college versus are we talking four year institution? And typically I see community colleges are a bit less polarized in terms of their brand image. That they are viewed as more likely to be sort of very deeply rooted in a community. They're providing skills that people need at an affordable price to help them get a leg up in the workforce. And so I think community colleges are less affected by some of the more partisan debates, than perhaps four year institutions are.

But you also have this dynamic of the college in my community versus colleges broadly. You find this a bit with K-12 education as well that people will say, "Oh, I don't think the K-12 education system is doing a good job, but I love my kids' school. I'm frustrated with those liberal colleges and universities, but gosh, go State, go university that's that's in my state or district." So, there is a little bit of a, what level are we talking? And then how local versus national is the conversation.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, and we see that with Congress too, right? I love my local Congress person. Approval ratings are always higher for your local Congress person than Congress as a whole. Kristen, I feel like our colleges struggle a little bit because it feels at least to some of them I think, sort of self-evident that college is worth it, right? Lifetime earnings bump for a four year college degree is somewhere in the range of just a little bit north of a million dollars, last I've seen. Unemployment rates for college grads, I mean, half the rate of those who don't have a college education. And yet it seems like we're struggling to sort of make that case. To Sarah's point, I mean, are there messages that we're not as focused on, as we should be, as we're talking to parents, families, young people?

Kristen Soltis Anderson: I mean, I think the core thing that needs to be communicated by institutions of higher learning is, here is how this is going to help you improve your professional prospects once you walk out the door that the idea that this is going to help you grow as a whole person and help you find yourself, and help understand the world around you and become more well rounded. Those are all wonderful things that I know institutions are very proud to provide, and absolutely should not shy away from touting.

But, I think the big problem that you're facing with young people today is they look at the lives that perhaps their parents or grandparents had and they rightly or wrongly sort of view it as, "My parents and grandparents, if they went and they got a college degree and then they graduated, they were able to get a pretty good job that would let them within a few short years, buy a home, start a family, buy a car. Maybe they weren't going on luxurious vacations every year, but they could get by. And now I, as a young person graduate, and I perhaps have some, if not, a lot of debt. And the idea of home ownership feels so far away. The idea of moving up the career ladder as fast as I would've hoped feels a bit out of reach."

And so there's a real sense among, I used to find this a lot among millennials when I was focused on studying them. And now you've got generation Z behind them, this acute sense of, "Hey, I was promised something that I feel like society is not making possible for me," that home ownership or what have you are a bit out of reach. And the idea that if you did all the right things and you checked all the right boxes, that path would be available to you feels a little bit, almost fraudulent to many young people. And college is one of those boxes. I think that it used to be, well, as long as you do this, you'll be fine. And many young people don't necessarily think that's the case anymore, that a college degree may on average give you higher earning potential, et cetera, but it's not a guarantee. And I think that's what colleges and universities need to convey is that you are giving people the tools, even in a world where things aren't a guarantee, you are giving people the tools to have their best possible shot at being able to make those choices for themselves.

I did a research project for the Walton Family Foundation recently about what do millennials and Gen Z think about concepts like the American dream. And for them it's not the white picket fence and the two car garage or anything like that, but it is the ability to have control over your own destiny. And there's a real sense that education can open a lot of those doors, can make sure that if you want to choose a particular door on your life path, that you have the keys to open it. And I think that's one of the most important messages that colleges and universities can can convey.

Jonathan Fansmith: And it's interesting you raised this point too, about particularly millennials and generation Z, who feel that maybe not only is college not a guarantee, but they're delaying life decisions like getting married, buying a house, in part because of their experience with higher education, debt they might have accumulated. And as we record this on a Tuesday afternoon, we just passed a weekend where the rumors were that Present Biden might announce a debt forgiveness plan. I think people are still expecting to see an announcement around that at any time. This is a really interesting issue. It's a really interesting issue on a lot of levels we've talked on this podcast and other areas about the political dimensions of this and sort of the policy aspects of this. But you also hear a lot of noise from both sides. People are very passionate about this in support of debt forgiveness. People are very passionately opposed. And I'm curious, what are you seeing particularly among younger voters, which this is clearly aimed at, by the Biden administration? Is this sort of a, there's this sort of assumption, there's a uniform support for debt forgiveness? Is that what you are seeing?

Kristen Soltis Anderson: The politics of it are a bit more complicated. So there are certainly a lot of younger voters who feel that debt forgiveness would either benefit them themselves, or would at least sort of send a signal that, Hey, something is out of whack with college finance and needs to be addressed. So you do find that younger voters, when you just ask a sort of straight up support, opposed, type question, tend to say, they're supportive. They're not necessarily supportive of larger numbers. When you start talking about, forgive it all, or forgive $50,000, and that, you see those numbers fall. But $10,000, you tend to see reasonably robust support. But that support is very easy to erode when sort of presented with a counter message.

So one, it's important to remember that most people who are generation Z and millennial will not get a four year or will not complete a four-year college degree. And so this is not an issue that does affect all of them. It is an issue that affects some of them very strongly, but it's not one that all young people experience. And the other thing is, when I've talked about this in qualitative research, is this question of fairness around, well, hey, what about a parent who worked three jobs and saved up so that their son or daughter didn't have to worry about taking on debt? Or the person who said, "I could have gone to prestigious university X, but instead I went to local community college and then my state institution, because that was going to be cheaper,"? Or the person who they themselves worked three jobs after college to try to pay off their loans, feeling a little bit of a sense of, "Hey, I did the things that I was supposed to do.

When I've also done focus groups that have included older Americans, there is sometimes pushback around, "Well, it's lovely that you want to forgive the debt for these kids. But what about my medical debt? Student loan debt is a debt that you've taken on by choice. Medical debt, I didn't ask to be in the hospital. I didn't ask for my spouse to get that disease that racked up all of those bills. So why is that debt considered more worthy of being forgiven than my debt?' And so I think the politics of this are a little more complicated than a simplistic, Democrats are struggling with young voters, which is true. Therefore, they must pass student loan forgiveness to energize young voters. I think it's a lot more complicated than that.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. It was interesting to see the reactions on Twitter this weekend to kind of the president's plan of forgiving 10,000 for people that make less than 150,000. I mean, most of the stuff I saw was progressives that said, it didn't go far enough. And so I guess what you're saying, Kristen, like, even if you were going to forgive all the debt, that might not be enough to get young voters enough to the polls, and it might actually enrage some of those young voters that didn't take on debt for a college education.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: I would not assume that any one particular issue is going to be the thing. I mean, the reason why younger voters are feeling disillusioned and disappointed these days is not just about student loan debt. It's about the state of the economy in general, it's about rising costs on all fronts. And this is something that I think colleges and universities need to be aware of. Of course, inflation is hitting all of your institutions. The cost of the food in the dining halls is going up, therefore you need to raise the cost of a meal plan. The cost of the power to the dormitories are on campus housing is going up, so you need to raise the prices. So there are all sorts of pressures that I know are facing your institutions that then there's a sense of by necessity have to get passed along to students that are availing themselves of those services and so on.

But, for young people, college is just one thing that is a potentially rising expense for them, now, in addition to the groceries that they're buying at the store, housing, rent, the gas they're putting in the car. I mean, the cost of living and the fact that for many young people, they are really struggling with it, especially when it comes to housing, is overriding everything. So I think any assumption that, well, this is the one issue that will motivate and energize people, it's going to be a lot more complicated.

Mushtaq Gunja: Kristen, the student loan question is sort of tied to rising tuition sort of generally. I imagine it's the thing that comes up when you're talking to both young people and parents as well. Can you help our institutions sort of think about this a little bit, because there's no question the sticker price of college has gone up a lot. The real costs that most families are sort of paying hasn't gone up quite as much because aid sort of fills in some of the gaps. And the average amount of sort of student debt that a four year graduate has taken on has not risen nearly as much as sort of the sticker price of tuition. I assume that families and voters aren't making those sort of fine distinctions. How are people sort of feeling about the rising cost of tuition?

Kristen Soltis Anderson: I think this hits the most home for folks that think of themselves as the middle class, which we know from surveys, the vast, vast, vast majority of themselves think of themselves in that boat. And so they would say, "Look, there's plenty of grant aid and scholarship and need based aid out there for those who might be lower income." And then if you are upper class, you are fine. You can write a check and it's no big deal. But if you're in the middle class, you fall into this black hole where there's not a lot of help for you because the help is more concentrated for those two are the most in need. But, you certainly can't just break out the checkbook and write a check and the problem's solved. So I think that's where for many folks who consider themselves middle class, they feel a bit left out by the, "Well, the sticker price doesn't apply to you." They say, "Well, it kind of still does in many ways," that they don't feel like there's a lot of attention sort of placed on them and opportunities for them.

I would also say that one of the big pieces of the conversation around the student loan forgiveness debate that you see from a lot of Republicans is this concern that if, okay, the federal government is wiping away student loan debt, does that mean that institutions' sort of feel, "Well, hey, we feel like we have a little bit more leeway to try to raise that price in response because well, if people need to borrow more, maybe that will just get forgiven down the road anyways,"? So, I think you are with this conversation around student loan forgiveness beginning to see Republicans go, "Hey, Hey, Hey, wait a minute. Additional subsidization or loan forgiveness, that's not the way to bring a price down on something." And so what are ways that we can make opportunities available for students that aren't just, well, the sticker price is high, but then we subsidize it a way, how can we actually provide options to students where the sticker price is something that is manageable and doesn't need to be sort of smudged away through some complicated aid and grants and subsidization sort of mechanism.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, Kristen's sort of an interesting conundrum, right? Because we started this conversation by sort of observing that Americans generally are favorably disposed to their community colleges. And community college prices are really quite affordable, by and large in many cases are free depending on sort of the promise program that you might have in your particular neighborhood. And yet over the course of the last three years, we've seen community college enrollment decline pretty substantially. So, I'm not totally sure how to connect these dots. Because, to the extent that Americans are more sort of price conscious or more worried about taking on debt in almost every community around the country, there's a community college that's providing really, really great sort of entry level education in a lot of ways. And I think voters are favorably inclined toward them. What do you think is happening there?

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So I'm not sure. I would hesitate to speculate. This is where I, as up pollster say, "I would need to do research." And I have not researched what's going on in terms of America's views about the value of community college. I know at least before the pandemic and research that I had done, community college was viewed as a great way to get a start, to get a couple of credits under your belt. And you were paying a third of what you would pay at local or state flagship U, for those same credits. And that was a good way to kind of get started on your journey toward perhaps a four year degree. But I don't know to what extent the pandemic and things like this switch to remote learning, et cetera, to what extent that has changed things. I would have to imagine that's got to be some piece of the puzzle.

Jonathan Fansmith: We have an election season happening, one that's maybe a little bit more unusual. Although I guess every election season we say this one's more unusual than the last. But we are in a place where, as we've already talked about, student loan forgiveness might be an electoral issue. We've talked about public perceptions of costs. I want to get your views on, do you think education, particularly higher education, from our perspective education generally is an issue that brings voters to the polls? Is it something they vote on? You mentioned a little bit, there's a lot of decisions that influence what you vote. Just sort of your read on how big a role higher education may play in the upcoming midterm elections.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So, I think it's unlikely that higher education will in and of itself be a major issue, but I think it is connected to two issues that are likely to get a lot of focus. One is again, inflation being a big issue. Cost of living that just being an enormous burden on people. And to the extent that you have sectors of our economy, whether it is the cost of college education or the cost of gas. Anything that is going up or is going up faster than the median thing you would buy is going to get a lot of attention and a lot of scrutiny and a lot of talk of, "Well, what's being done to make this more affordable?"

The other way in which I can see higher education getting kind of entangled in the political climate is this conversation that's been more focused on K-12, but around sort of content and what are we teaching children? And what is the purpose of this education? This is again, more affected the debate around K12, particularly in some red states where Democrats are saying, "Republicans have gone too far at trying to manage or micromanage," depending on your point of view, "what the curriculum looks like." But, that's the sort of issue that there are going to be a handful of states where this is also bleeding into higher education. And what is the purpose of a state university and what should they be teaching students and what shouldn't they be teaching students? I don't think that's likely to be a top tier issue, but it's certainly something that I can see making its way into the second tier.

But last but not least, I would say some of the data that I have at my firm, we asked voters to what extent they were favorable or unfavorable to the political parties. Plenty of people unfavorable to both. So, lots of frustration to go around, but we found that there was this particularly acute frustration with the democratic party among non-college educated voters, more so than college educated voters saying that I don't think that the Democratic Party understands people like me. And I think that's why you increasingly see rhetoric from Republican candidates for office saying, "We need to do more to respect those who don't have college degrees. We need to do more to elevate those workers. Maybe not everyone needs to go to college and we need to be providing other pathways," et cetera, et cetera. So that, again, it's less of a specific policy issue around higher education, but more the types of voters that voters, or that politicians are focused on. Education level did not used to be a way that we were segmenting voters in a meaningful or partisan way. It has become a more meaningful way to sort of segment people along partisan lines. And I can see that continuing through November.

Jonathan Fansmith: It definitely feels more pronounced here in Washington that partisan divide on these issues. Again, want to be respectful of your time. I don't know if you can answer this question. I'm curious though. Can we ask you to prognosticate about what you think the midterm elections will look like, what the numbers will be? We've been asking people, there's a variety of views, so...

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Sure.

Jonathan Fansmith: ... I'd love your take.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So I won't give you any projections around how many seats in the Senate or House, but I will say it's likely to be a very good night for Republicans for a couple of reasons. One, Republicans are the party out of power. Thermostatic public opinion would suggest that we have a thermostat, which went Democratic last time around, is now kicking in to say, "No, no, no, just kidding. We want to go back the other way a little bit." So already, just for pure historical reasons, Republicans were well positioned. President Biden's job approval does not look good and has not really improved. And unless the economy dramatically turns around, it strikes me as unlikely that this will suddenly flip and become a good year for Democrats.

I also think there are a couple of items that are expected to pop up this summer, including things like the Supreme Court's ruling in the Mississippi abortion case on Roe versus Wade. You've got the tragedy in Texas, and how will the politics of the gun issue change things? I think these are all issues that there were really strongly felt emotions, where people will get very engaged. But, there are real questions about how does that sustain itself through until November? Is it something that's top of mind by November, or by the time you get there are people back on, my gas is $5 a gallon and everything else is secondary.

The other big X factor I think is, and we're mostly through primary season, but we still have a couple left, who will win in some of these primary contests. You've got a couple of races where Republicans should win, but have they nominated someone who's a bit too far outside the mainstream? If this was not likely to be a red wave year, that would be a really challenging race for them to win. You've got things like, for instance, the governor's race in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have nominated a candidate who in a quote unquote normal year might have real trouble getting elected governor in Pennsylvania. But, in a year that's very favorable to Republicans, anything can happen. So I think waiting to see how many of those kind of X-factor candidates make it through is another question that is yet unresolved.

Jonathan Fansmith: Well, all things to keep an eye on and keep watching out for. And thank you so much for coming on and sharing your wisdom with us. It's been a great conversation. We've really enjoyed having you.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Thank you for having me.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always podcast friends, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at\podcast. And while there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together. Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Hisani Stenson and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Jon, Musht​aq, and I sound as good as possible. And finally, thank you so much for listening.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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