Varying Degrees: How America Perceives Higher Education

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Most college graduates will end up eventually earning more than their parents even accounting for student loans. But many students leave school before obtaining their degree. In our new post-recession economic reality where most jobs go to those with post-secondary degrees, ensuring that low-, moderate-, and middle-income adults have access to an affordable, high-quality higher education is fundamental to helping to increase or maintain middle-class economic mobility.

Americans of all generations understand this. In the winter of 2017, New America commissioned Varying Degrees—a nationally representative survey of 1,600 Americans ages 18 and older to better understand America’s perception of higher education and economic mobility. The results show that Americans are aware that the American Dream is increasingly out of reach. They recognize, however, that higher education is an important societal good that provides an individual with a foothold into the middle class.

On Thursday, May 11th at 10am, please join New America for a graduation week event as we take a closer look at America’s thoughts and perceptions of higher education and discuss the implications of these findings for students, institutional leaders, and policymakers.

Follow the conversation online with #VaryingDegrees and by following @NewAmericaEd

9:30am Breakfast and Registration

10:00am Welcome and Opening Remarks

Rachel Fishman, @higheredrachel
Senior Policy Analyst, New America

10:30am Panel Discussion: How Current Students View Higher Education and the Pursuit of the American Dream

Jemiscoe Chambers-Black @Jemiscoe
Student, Southern New Hampshire University

Lindsay Shurtliff
Student, Northern Virginia Community College

Ariel Ventura-Lazo
Student, Northern Virginia Community College


Danielle Douglas-Gabriel @DaniDougPost
Reporter, Washington Post

11:30am Panel Discussion: Diving into the Data -- Translating America’s Perceptions Into Policy

José Luis Cruz
President, CUNY-Lehman

Cheryl Oldham @CherylOldham
Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Scott Ralls @nova_prez
President, Northern Virginia Community College

Deborah Santiago @ds_excelencia
Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Policy, Excelencia in Education


Rob Nabors
Director of U.S. Policy, Advocacy, and Communications, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


New America is dedicated to the renewal of American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the digital age through big ideas, technological innovation, next generation politics, and creative engagement with broad audiences.

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