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A scan of 13,000 social media comments discussing the value of going to college shows that 93 percent of them reflected negative or neutral views, a recent report finds.

The study by Campus Sonar uses a research methodology known as social listening or social intelligence to expand the analysis of public views on the value of higher education.

The findings largely reinforce a trend observed in other more traditional survey-based reports: that confidence in the value of a college degree is declining. But Liz Gross, founder and chief executive officer of Campus Sonar, said the study adds a new level of depth.

“We don’t just have a yes or no … answer to a question, we have the full context in which people are expressing experiences or beliefs related to the topic that we’re studying,” Gross said. “So even though there was a strong, negative or neutral bent to the conversation, we were able to dive into the context qualitatively and see where there are bright spots.”

For example, while only seven percent of comments included in the study’s sample had an overall positive connotation, individuals often discussed the societal and personal benefits that college could potentially have if “done right.”

The study gathered its contextualized, qualitative data by scraping platforms including X, Reddit and College Confidential for comments on higher education posted between June and December 2023. Keywords and phrases related to higher education were combined in Boolean queries (or searches that include words such as “and, or, not” to limit, broaden or define a search) to narrow the sample to conversations focused on the purpose or value of a degree.

Gross said the report suggests college and university leaders should move away from broad, generic branding and toward a transparent, outcome- and audience-driven approach. “Everyone has ‘world-class faculty’, and ‘unmatched educational opportunities,’” she said. “We need to start looking more one-to-one and say, ‘These are students who look like you, who’ve been treated like you in the past, who have successfully made it through our institution and have received these benefits.’”