Alumni Perceptions of Price and Other Matters

Survey of college graduates finds that they think tuitions are too high -- except at their alma maters.
May 20, 2008

Ask the typical American what he or she thinks of Congress, and the response is: Throw the bums out. But ask for an opinion of the local representative of that august body, and the review is much more favorable.

And so it appears to be with colleges and their tuitions they charge. A survey of 1,000 college alumni to be released today by the American Council on Education shows that 65 percent of college graduates believe that the price of higher education is too high. But most of those surveyed said their own alma maters charged a fair price. The proportion differed among private and public college graduates. While 79 percent of public college graduates thought their own institution charged a fair price, only 53 percent of private college graduates felt the same way.

Molly C. Broad, the new president of the council, attributed the gap between alumni perceptions of their own colleges’ costs and those of other institutions to two factors. One, she said, there is a difference between thinking about the cost of college in the “abstract” as opposed to as “direct beneficiaries.” In other words, graduates may think the tuition they paid was fair because they had the whole experience, while when thinking about other schools, all they see is a sticker price. Also, she pointed out the differing opinions among those who attended private colleges as opposed to public institutions.

The survey was part of the council’s “Solutions for Our Future" campaign, which Broad said was begun in response to evidence that individuals across the country did not have a clear understanding or value of higher education.

The survey asked 1,000 graduates of two- and four-year institutions, ranging in age from 25 to 39 years old, about their college experiences and how useful they were. Over all, alumni expressed satisfaction; 92 percent said their education was worth it.

One area of the survey asked graduates to rate six skill sets colleges provide: critical thinking skills, research skills, communication skills, writing skills, organizational and time management skills and multicultural skills.

Critical thinking skills, research skills and communication skills received ratings of 7.90, 7.71 and 7.70 based on a scale of 10. Multicultural skills received the lowest rating, 6.26. However, among Hispanic and African American alumni, multicultural skills received a rating of 6.56 and 7.56, respectively.

Broad called the finding that critical thinking and communication skills scored well "gratifying," because "these have emerged as the most important 21st century skills," she said.

However, she said the low scores given to multicultural skills are a "wakeup" call for colleges. She said colleges need to "revamp" their commitment to creating a multicultural environment.

Although most of the survey's results bode well for higher education, the study also highlighted areas that graduates said were lacking. For example, respondents rated professional connections made in college lowest in terms of college experiences that were beneficial after college.

Alumni might be expected to look favorably on their alma maters. But Melanie Corrigan, director of national initiatives at the American Council on Education, said alumni are sometimes -- and have in past ACE studies -- been critical of their institutions. She also said that two-thirds of those surveyed for this report had not donated to their universities. "These are not just institutional boosters," she said.


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