Why Do Republicans Think College Is Hurting America?

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The Pew Research Center's department on American politics and policy recently found that Democrats and Republicans' views of national institutions differ greatly — especially when it comes to higher education.

The researchers spoke to more than 2,500 adults and divided the responses into two groups: Republican or those leaning Republican and Democrat or those leaning Democrat. The survey did not reflect responses from those who responded with "I don't know." The study sought to understand the public's view of institutions like churches, banks, labor unions, national news media, and universities, and whether it was positive or negative. The study found that the differences of opinion are much greater and pronounced compared to last year. When it comes to some specific institutions, the rise or steep in opinion is overwhelmingly sharp.

One of the main takeaways was the increasingly negative view Republicans hold of colleges and universities. A majority of Republicans and those learning Republican — 58 percent — viewed educational institutions negatively. In contrast, a majority of Democrats and those leaning Democrat — 72 percent — viewed colleges and universities in a positive light.

Republican opinion of colleges has been controversial, to say the least. In 2012, The Atlantic documented the GOP's strong pushback against colleges. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum called colleges and universities "indoctrination mills." In 2016, Politico noted that the Republican platform viewed higher education more negatively than the Democratic platform, and criticized college campuses for supposed "political indoctrination."

The criticism was mostly leveled at student activists who have been demanding safer spaces and justice for marginalized students like racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, and women.

Although the Pew research does not specify the reasons behind Republicans' negative view of colleges, it does note that the shift in opinion took place over a short time. Since 2015, Republicans' opinion of higher education has become exceedingly negative. Last year, Republicans were mixed about colleges, with 43 percent saying the effect of higher education is positive, while 45 percent believed it was negative.

But this year, the majority leans toward viewing colleges as detrimental to the country. In only two years, a majority of Republicans have turned against universities. Possible reasons behind the increasing criticism might include political differences with liberal students, the debate on safe spaces, and student activism.

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The study also looked at the role of religion, with 73 percent of Republicans saying it has a positive effect on the country, and 50 percent of Democrats saying the same. Meanwhile, 37 percent of Republicans believe that banks have a negative impact on the nation, while 54 percent of Democrats believe that banks help the country. Another notable opinion difference was highlighted in the statistic that 85 percent of Republicans believe national news media has a negative impact on the country.

The research from Pew points to a widening chasm in ideological differences between the two primary political parties of the United States. But the most remarkable revelation from the research points to growing negative opinion toward higher education emanating from Republicans. With such a hostile view of higher education, the future of colleges and universities seems to be in a tricky spot.