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Statewide poll finds 78% of Texans Characterize Student Loan Debt as “Major Problem”

Texans remain deeply concerned about student loan debt and college costs according to a new statewide survey released today.

The WGU Texas Higher Education Poll, sponsored by the nonprofit, accredited online university, found 78 percent of Texans characterizing student loan debt as a “major problem.”

Several findings in the poll illustrated Texans’ views that earning a higher education yields economic and social returns.

  • Among the majority of Texans who say student loan debt is a major problem, 94 percent said that having a degree or certificate beyond high school is either very or somewhat important.
  • The value of higher education extends further. Eighty-one percent of Texans view a post-secondary degree as essential for getting a good job, for improving one’s quality of life (86 percent) and for gaining a higher income (89 percent).

Cost is also a significant concern for Texans who don’t have a college degree, with 72 percent identifying the price of college as an impediment to earning one.

“From the U.S. presidential campaign trail, to the Texas Legislature to everyday Texans’ kitchen tables, student debt and the cost of higher education is driving conversations and raising serious concerns,” said Veronica Vargas Stidvent, Chancellor of WGU Texas. “As voters and state leaders discuss these important policy issues, the WGU Texas Higher Education Poll offers some relevant and timely insight.”

While the higher education poll found overwhelming concern about the costs and debt associated with college, Texans clearly make a connection between the importance of higher education, its impact on the state economy and their own future earning power. “In short, Texans know college matters,” Stidvent added.

Dr. James Henson, noted for his statewide polling for the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin, said Texans’ concerns about student debt didn’t taint their view of higher education. “Texans strongly hold positive and aspirational views about the importance of higher education,” Henson said. “Concerns about issues like debt and cost are likely rooted in Texans’ views that a college degree has such positive impacts on people’s lives. Obstacles to these benefits get their attention.”

For the second year in a row, the survey also shows Texans understand that an educated workforce is important, as 96 percent of Texans who hold a college degree (and 91 percent of those without a degree) believe an educated workforce is essential for the state’s economic competitiveness.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, has set a goal to see 60 percent of young adults, ages 25-34 obtain a certificate or college degree by 2030 in order to meet a highly-skilled workforce. However, this survey shows that at a time when the state needs more Texans with college and post-secondary degrees, obstacles lay in their path. In addition to seeing cost as a roadblock, 69 percent of Texans without degrees cited family responsibilities and 64 percent, job or work responsibilities, as obstacles to completing a degree.

“The new face of higher education is the nontraditional student, who juggles family responsibilities, full-time work, financial concerns and time constraints,” said Stidvent. “How we as universities and the state choose to support policies to make college more affordable and accessible will no doubt define Texas’ long-term prosperity.”

The WGU Texas Higher Education Poll, developed and performed by Strategic Research Associates, comprised of independent researchers James Henson, Ph.D. and Joshua Blank, Ph.D., known for their statewide polling for the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin. The statewide poll was fielded between Sept. 6 – 16, 2016 and surveyed 800 adult Texans with an overall margin of error of +/- 3.46 percent. It is the second-straight year that SRATEX, LLC conducted the WGU Texas Higher Education Poll on behalf of non-profit WGU Texas.

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