In the wake of significant media coverage about sexual assaults on college campuses, a new Virginia Commonwealth University Commonwealth Education Poll indicates strong support among Virginians for legislative proposals that would require university faculty or staff to report to police within 48 hours any alleged criminal sexual assaults that come to their attention.
The poll, conducted annually by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, found an overwhelming majority of Virginians (92 percent) believes that colleges and universities should be required to report sexual assaults to the police. Support for the idea dropped to 84 percent among the youngest demographic group, those aged 18–34.
“Rarely is there such a strong consensus on any issue in our public discourse about such a charged issue,” said Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., associate professor and interim executive director of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute. “Lawmakers in an election year will pay close attention to this type of overwhelming sentiment.”
A majority of Virginians (61 percent) also believes that actions available to college administrators can significantly decrease the number of sexual assaults, compared to 35 percent who think sexual assaults will happen regardless of administrator actions. The belief that actions can make a difference was stronger among college graduates, of whom 70 percent agreed that actions taken by administrators could reduce the number of sexual assaults.
Even with significant media coverage in recent months regarding campus sexual assaults, a strong majority of Virginians (66 percent) believes that Virginia’s college and university campuses are safe or very safe, with 11 percent saying very safe. This is statistically unchanged from 2014 when 70 percent of those canvased by the same poll judged campuses safe or very safe. Respondents from northern virginia were most likely (79 percent) to think campuses are safe or very safe. Women, however, judged campuses to be safe less frequently than men — 40 percent of women said they thought campuses were not very safe or not at all safe compared to 22 percent of men who said the same.
In other findings on higher education, the poll demonstrated that large majorities of Virginians believe the state’s four-year universities (80 percent) and community colleges (78 percent) are providing their students with good or excellent quality educations. Views of the quality of strictly online higher education providers are more mixed.
Strong majorities also responded that Virginia colleges and universities are doing a good job in four specific outcome areas:
· Producing graduates in scientific fields — 72 percent.
· Providing the skills that will be useful in obtaining a job — 69 percent.
· Preparing students for the workforce needs for the future — 65 percent.
· Developing students’ writing and communication skills — 62 percent.
Those who’d had a child attend a Virginia college or university judged schools more harshly in the area of developing writing and communication skills — only 52 percent responded that schools were doing a good job compared to 65 percent of respondents who had not had a child attend a Virginia college or university.
In the area of workforce preparedness, the poll found a strong majority (70 percent) responded that high school graduates are not prepared for the workplace, strongly or somewhat disagreeing with the statement that high school graduates are ready for work. Overall, however, the Virginians surveyed believe that high school graduates are prepared for higher education (64 percent) and college graduates are prepared for work (64 percent).
Counter to the conventional wisdom that a college degree is crucial for success in today’s economy, 63 percent of those polled said they thought job-specific skills and knowledge were more important than a degree from a well-respected university for success. Likewise, a substantial majority of Virginians (68 percent) agreed either strongly or somewhat that public high school students should be required to participate in at least one internship (whether paid or volunteer) during high school. Agreement with the idea was higher than the overall average among minorities (78 percent), those who have worked in schools (76 percent) and Democrats (77 percent).
“Most people don’t think high school graduates are ready to succeed in the workplace,” McDougle said. “Attending college is obviously critical for many in launching a career, but these responses remind us that what you learn and how those knowledge and skills align with the needs of employers may be a bigger factor in starting a successful career than simply getting a degree.”
The Commonwealth Education Poll was conducted by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 27, 2014, to Jan. 3, 2015, with a random sample of 806 adults in Virginia. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
For a PDF of the 28-page report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results see http://cepi.vcu.edu/publicatio