Morning Consult, a company that conducts regular surveys on things like consumer sentiment and trust, has released a report breaking down public trust in American universities. They asked 11,050 adults about their level of trust for the top 135 universities listed in US News and World Reports.

On the full list above, the highest ranking public university is UNC Chapel Hill at 18. Of the top 46, there are only 10 public universities. 

However the trust of higher ed broadly is far above that of many other large US institutions, beating out the government, the media, and corporations by quite a lot.

The trust levels stratify along several different lines, most noticeably Democrats and Republicans (Democrats are more likely to trust any higher ed), generation (Gen Z is the least likely to trust higher ed, in spite of the fact that they are generally more left than the older generations), and interestingly between Gen Z and Students, since most of the current population of college students falls into Gen Z. This could indicate a large population of young adults who didn’t or couldn’t attend school and hold a lot of distrust for education, since currently only 42.1% of people 18-24 are enrolled in college (although many would likely have graduated already). Exploring the origins of this distrust and the population breakdown could provide insight for groups that higher ed still needs to make inroads on.

Interestingly, the most trusted universities are not exactly the most sought after or selective. They are generally extremely selective colleges, but the fact that Johns Hopkins ranks more than 10 percentage points above the highest ranking Ivy League School (Cornell) might say something about the effect of their perceived status.

But the low ranking of public universities further splits students who are fortunate enough to attend the clique of prestigious colleges and the approximately 74% of students who attend a (almost universally more affordable) public university. It is often far to easy to focus on the goings on for a handful of elite universities whose graduates make up a large portion of the politicians and business leaders, but the vast majority of students go through a far more local public college experience, and without public trust, they might not do well in the rocky future that seems likely for education.

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