Majority of Republicans Say Colleges Are Bad for America (Yes, Really)

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Hantzley Audate, right, and Myles Badger, center, singing along to the alma mater near the end of the ceremony during the 137th Emerson College undergraduate commencement at Agganis Arena in Boston on May 14. Boston Globe, Getty

The United States of America were much less divided just two years ago, when the majority of citizens largely agreed on some fundamental beliefs across party lines. Of those, that higher education leads to a better nation.

But in 2017, where it seems even nonpartisan issues and institutions have become boxed into sets of beliefs based on the major parties’ political agendas, stark divisions have been drawn on everything from the media to colleges and universities.

A Pew Research Center survey published Monday revealed voters have grown apart in their support of secondary education since the 2016 presidential election season, when a majority of Democratic and Republican Americans agreed the nation’s universities serve as a benefit for the U.S. Whereas 54 percent of Republicans said "colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country" in 2015, the majority now believe the opposite, with 58 percent saying such institutions negatively impact the state of the union.

As Republicans took to the campaign trails last year, with many candidates vowing to reverse course on former President Barack Obama’s student loan protections and his administration’s push for college affordability, voters identifying with the party sharply began to withdraw their support from universities altogether. Forty-five percent of Republicans said they believed colleges and universities had a negative impact on the U.S. in 2016, compared with just 37 percent the year prior.

"We don’t need the federal government to be involved in this, because when they do we create a $1.2 trillion debt," former GOP candidate Jeb Bush said on making college education affordable for all Americans. "We need to get back to training people in this country to do the jobs of the 21st century," Marco Rubio said, echoing the Republican Party's push for labor-skilled work and less federal involvement in college education. 

"Why, for the life of me, I do not understand why did we stop doing vocational education in America—people that can work with their hands, people you can train to do this work while they’re still in high school, so they can graduate ready to go work."

GettyImages-619309896 Trump supporters booing as the Republican candidate criticized NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick during a campaign rally at the Bank of Colorado Arena on the campus of University of Northern Colorado on October 30, 2016, in Greeley, Colorado. Chip Somodevilla, Getty

The 21 percent increase in two years among Republicans is even more notable when compared with those who identify as Democrats—72 percent of whom say universities have a positive effect. That number has varied only a number of percentage points over the last few years.

2017 marks the first year Pew Research Center has asked the question and received a majority of responses from Republicans expressing their negative perceptions of higher education in seven years. Fifty-five percent of Americans overall still believe colleges and universities are benefits for the country, however.

Republicans also are becoming increasingly opposed to the media, with 85 percent of those surveyed saying the nation’s free press has a negative impact, compared with 68 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, Democrats are split on the issue, with 44 percent stating positive perceptions of the media and 46 percent expressing their distaste.

Trump has continued to blast the media as fake news throughout his presidency, repeatedly denouncing reports critical of his administration as outright lies. Meanwhile, 18 states have sued his Department of Education under Cabinet appointee Betsy DeVos for failing to implement a rule protecting student loan borrowers that should have gone into effect July 1.