Bernie Sanders’ plan for public education has drawn attention to tuition increases and student loan debt. Attending a public university might seem like a less expensive alternative to a private university, but prices for attending a public university are continuing to grow. The average cost of attending a public university rose 4.6 percent in 2012 to $16,510. As these costs continue to rise, more students are receiving loans too, reaching 40 million in 2014.
Has Sanders tapped into students’ fear over what some have described as a looming debt crisis? PackPoll asked NC State students about these issues. One question asked how confident they were about securing a job within six months of graduation. Optimistically, perhaps, 89% were at least slightly confident, while 31% were very confident. In 2013, we asked a similar question and the results were similar. Then, much closer to the “great recession,” only 17 percent said they were “not worried” about finding a job after graduation.
Students appear to be more concerned about paying off their loans, if they have one. Almost one-third of students indicated they didn’t have loans to consider. Among those with loans, concern ran high. Just 18% said they were not at all concerned. More specifically, 26% of those with loans were “very concerned,” while 56% were at least “somewhat concerned.” The most recent answers indicate concern grew from 2013, when 46 percent said they were worried about paying back student loans, but they mirrored the 57 percent in 2011 that said they were very, somewhat, or slightly concerned.
There are several reasons that could explain the change in students’ attitudes about debt. One explanation could be the amount of media attention being brought to public education. Sanders’ proclamation for free public education has certainly drawn attention to higher education. Another explanation could be the proximity to the great recession could also have been influential for students. The sting of the great recession is slowly going away; the economy is looking a bit more hopeful than it did several years ago. Regardless, it is interesting to note the changing dynamics from our students.
NOTE ON METHDOLOGY: This “Big Poll” took place March 13-15, 2016. The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 4,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 20% response rate for completed surveys. Sampling error is +/-3.3% for completed interviews and questions asked of the full sample; it is higher for sub-groups and questions asked of only portions of the full sample.
In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We did not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample (primarily by gender), but weighting would only have minor effects on the results we report here (our sample is 51% male when men are 56% of the NCSU undergraduate student body).
Click here to see a PDF file for the full set of results: Spring2016BigPollToplines
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