Study: Republicans increasingly think higher education is harming the country

A new Pew Research Center survey shows nearly 40 percent of American adults say colleges and universities are having a negative impact on the United States.

That number is up significantly from 2012, when it was measured at 26 percent.

The increase is almost entirely attributable to those who identify as Republicans or independents who lean Republican, according to the survey.

From 2015 to 2019, the share of Republican or Republican leaning respondents who said colleges have a negative effect on the country jumped from 37 percent to 59 percent.

Over the same period the opinions of Democrats and independents leaning Democratic were largely positive and stable.

There is also disagreement on why higher education may be headed in the wrong direction. Respondents from both parties agree tuition costs are too high (Republicans – 77 percent, Democrats 92 percent). But a large majority of Republicans (75 percent) believe there is too much concern about protecting students from views they might find offensive while far fewer Democrats (31 percent) said that was the case. Republican respondents were also much more likely (79 percent) to believe professors are bringing their political and social views into the classroom than Democrats (17 percent).

In North Carolina we have seen this divide play out in the Republican dominated UNC Board of Governors’ ongoing attempts to create conservative academic centers which they say will counteract pervasive liberal sentiment in academia.

It was also on display during former UNC System President Margaret Spellings’ tenure as head of the state university system. Despite the Texans’ deep conservative background and tenure as Secretary of Education under Republican President George W. Bush, Spellings was criticized as insufficiently conservative by critics on the political right and ultimately resigned after sustained public tensions with the Board of Governors.

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