Gen Z Adults Are Less Likely to Trust Higher Education

A recent survey by Morning Consult revealed trust in higher education is highest among baby boomers, parents, and first-generation graduates.
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Jessica Bryant
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Published on August 24, 2022
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  • The majority of Americans (51%) say they tend to trust U.S. colleges and universities.
  • But trust in higher ed is less likely among younger people despite increased rates of educational attainment.
  • First-generation graduates are more likely than first-generation students to trust higher ed.

Amid continued declines in enrollment and lessened views on the value of college, it's no secret that the once positive perception of higher education has taken a hit.

In a new survey by Morning Consult evaluating Americans' trust in higher education, more than a third of Generation Z respondents (35%) said they tend not to trust U.S. colleges and universities.

Though similar percentages of millennials and baby boomers say the same, there is a gap in trust of colleges and universities between Gen Z adults and baby boomers.

While 41% of Gen Z adults say they do tend to trust U.S. colleges and universities, a much larger percentage of baby boomers (55%) are likely to say the same.

During the past few years, many other researchers have noticed an age gap in perceptions of higher education.

Though Gen Z was once poised to be the most educated generation, as millennials were before them, they are also the least likely to believe in the value of traditional postsecondary education.

Instead, recent studies have shown that Gen Zers are more open to pursuing nontraditional education programs, particularly if they are offered at a low or no cost.

But it's not just Gen Z whose trust in higher education is lacking. The survey also found that adults who identify as Republican or independent, Hispanic adults, and first-generation students are less likely than their peers to say they tend to trust U.S. colleges and universities.

Less than 1 in 5 adults who identify as Democrats (18%) say they tend not to trust U.S. colleges and universities compared to more than 2 in 5 adults who identify as Republicans (43%).

Parents, students, and employers are all highly likely to trust in higher education. And though more than half of first-generation students say they trust U.S. colleges and universities, an even larger percentage of first-generation graduates say they trust in higher ed (52% vs. 62%).

Overall, the majority of Americans (51%) say they trust U.S. colleges and universities. Further, colleges and universities are more likely to be trusted by Americans than U.S. media organizations, corporations, and the government.

But as long as younger generations continue to have less trust in higher ed institutions, colleges and universities will have to work at earning their trust and emphasizing the value of a college education.