fdu public mind pollMADISON, NJ - New Jersey voters are divided over whether the cost of a college degree today is worth it, according to the most recent statewide poll of registered voters from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Forty-five percent say the cost of a college degree is justified given the value that society places on the accomplishment, while 43 percent believe the cost is no longer worth it given a degree’s declining value in society.

“With colleges and universities gearing up to begin the new academic year, this data suggests the decision to attend college was not a slam dunk,” said Krista Jenkins, director of PublicMind and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “The increasing cost of college is clearly weighing heavily on the minds of Garden State voters. The experience of going to college and getting a diploma makes the experience that much more worthwhile.”

College graduates (53%) and women (51%) are the most likely to believe in the continued value of a college degree, with those who lack a college diploma the most likely to say the cost exceeds the benefits. About half of all high school graduates (48%) and those with some college, but no degree (51%), say a college degree is no longer worth it.

“These results reflect a growing number of skeptics nationwide who question the worth of a college degree,” said Fairleigh Dickinson University President Sheldon Drucker. "Still, studies continue to show that college graduates earn more than those with just a high school diploma, suffer less unemployment, enjoy better health and participate more in civic life. Therefore, colleges must demonstrate their value while doing all that’s possible to keep their costs affordable.”

When asked about the reasons behind the rising cost of college tuition, the only responses to this open-ended question to reach double digits involve the behavior of those who run colleges and universities. A third of respondents cite colleges themselves for the increased costs. Fourteen percent offered reasons that center on overpaid administrators and upper management bloat, with another ten percent who said something akin to fiscal mismanagement by colleges themselves, and eight percent who cited overall greed. The only other response to garner a higher percentage of respondents is the “don’t knows,” or those who are simply mystified about the underlying causes of college unaffordability (20%).

Although big college sports programs often attract the ire of those critical of increased tuition, this was not cited by respondents. In fact, when asked what they think about the benefit of big college sports programs, like football and basketball, opinion is decisive. Two-thirds (67%) say these programs are good for colleges and universities, and another fifth (19%) say the opposite. Across virtually all groups polled, opinions vary little.

“Despite the often steep price tag associated with college athletics, it looks like most think these programs are beneficial,” said Jenkins. “Whether it’s revenue, school pride, or the benefits these programs bring to student athletes, there’s little public support for those who would like to see sports programs scaled back across our nation’s colleges and universities.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 700 registered voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from August 21 through August 27, 2013, and has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points.