Millennials have surprising views on education, new data suggests, with no fixed ideology and, in many cases, attitudes about higher education that defy the popular idea that “college is for everyone.”
Asked about the best ways to improve K-12 education, they propose a fairly traditional set of policy solutions:
- Increase school funding.
- Improve teacher training.
- Increase teacher pay.
But most millennials also say U.S. schools are not being held to account for the performance of students of color. And they support a handful of ideas that would make their former teachers blanch, including taxpayer-supported tuition vouchers.
“At the very basic level, I think it reveals complexity,” said Vladimir Medenica, a researcher with GenForward, a nationally representative bimonthly survey of millennials — loosely defined as adults aged 18-34 — conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago. The new findings are being released Tuesday.
Dig down a bit and you’ll find that nearly two-thirds of African-Americans surveyed — 65% — support charter schools, as do 61% of Asian Americans and 58% of Latinos. Support was weakest among white respondents, but it still surpassed a majority at 55%.
Publicly funded yet often privately managed, charter schools have grown in popularity even as their recruitment and retention practices have divided educators and lawmakers. About 3.1 million students attend charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The new survey found that many millennials support publicly funded vouchers that help cover low-income students’ tuition at private schools. The proposal is radioactive to most Democrats and teachers’ unions, but GenForward found that the idea earns support from large majorities of millennials: 79% of African-American respondents, 76% of Asian Americans, 77% of Latinos and 66% of whites.
Support drops when respondents are asked if they’d get behind a universal voucher, one not targeted to low-income students but intended for all students.
“Millennials really think about education holistically,” said Medenica. “They don’t fall neatly on either side of an education-reform or union-based debate. They have a rounded understanding of education and a rounded preference in terms of how to approach some of these issues.”
Millennials also demonstrate a clear divide when asked about the importance of higher education: 62% of Asian-Americans and 57% of Latinos say a college education is “necessary today to be successful.” Slightly fewer white (55%) and African-American (51%) young adults say the same.
Mark Zuckerberg told graduating students at Harvard, the university he dropped out of to create Facebook, to create a purpose for today’s world. (May 25) AP
Medenica said the findings don’t necessarily show that white and African-American young people value college less — simply that they’re more likely to say that there are “many ways to succeed” in life. “They see alternative routes to success,” he said.
But the 11-point gap between Asian-American and African-American attitudes about college “is significant,” Medenica said. What’s driving it — higher tuition, rising dropout rates or something else entirely — is a mystery and a topic for further research.
But another finding suggests that finances could be a big part of the problem: Huge majorities of young people — from 73% to 86% — support free tuition at public colleges.