Majority of Virginians see community colleges, public universities as worth the cost

vcuA majority of Virginians see two-year community colleges and four-year public universities as worth the cost, according to a new statewide poll by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU.

The poll found 80 percent agreed strongly or somewhat that community colleges are worth the cost, while 66 percent said the same about public four-year schools. By contrast, only 49 percent of respondents agreed strongly or somewhat that private four-year schools are worth the cost, while 48 percent disagreed strongly or somewhat.

The poll, a random sample of 802 adults in Virginia conducted by landline and cell telephone from July 10-30, has a margin of error of 3.49 percentage points.

The same poll asked respondents to assess whether colleges overall and public high schools in the state are doing a good job on four workforce-related outcomes:


  • Producing graduates in scientific fields.
  • Preparing students for the workforce needs of the future.
  • Developing students’ writing and communication skills.
  • Providing the skills useful in obtaining a job.

Comparing whether the public sees colleges and public high schools as doing a good job in all four areas of workforce development, the results show that a higher proportion see colleges as doing a good job than say the same about public high schools. The gap between the two ranged from 12 to 21 percentage points. The greatest gap concerned the outcome of “providing the skills useful in obtaining a job” where 66 percent said colleges and universities do a good job but only 45 percent said the same about public high schools.

“We often hear that a college education is a key factor in individual success,” said Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., director of the Center for Public Policy at the Wilder School, “but the Virginia public appears to see colleges as a definite step up in preparing the commonwealth’s collective workforce as well.”

Both high schools and colleges received positive ratings from the largest portion of the population in the area of producing graduates in scientific fields. Seventy-five percent of Virginians said colleges were doing a good job in this area; 57 percent said the same about high schools.

In all other categories, roughly the same portion of respondents said high schools were doing a good job as said they were doing a bad job. There were strong regional differences. With the exception of the category of producing graduates in scientific fields, the residents of the south-central region show the most negative evaluation of high schools, while Northern Virginia and the west region consistently show the most positive.

For a PDF of the 33-page report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results, go to

On Thursday, Aug. 23, the Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy will release the final poll results measuring Virginians’ views on several policies related to mental health.

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