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HomeNewsHarris Poll shows Student Loans Continue to Delay Spending Dreams

Harris Poll shows Student Loans Continue to Delay Spending Dreams

Written by Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst
The Harris Poll

The Harris PollNew York, NY – With the election “season” well under way, education in general and student loans in particular continue to surface as major topics of discussion.

It should come as no surprise that this topic looms on the agenda for many candidates, considering a majority of Americans (60%) believe the government should regulate college programs to help make sure that graduates can get jobs and repay college loans.

Over one third of Americans (36%) say they are currently paying or have paid student debt in the past, which is on par with 2013 counts (37%).

Those with college and graduate degrees put more stock in the value of a degree
Those with college and graduate degrees put more stock in the value of a degree

Among these debtors, 65% say they have delayed other spending/saving due to their student debt. Some of the things they’ve put off include:

  • Saving towards retirement (39%);
  • Buying or leasing a new car (30%);
  • A “dream” vacation (30%);
  • Buying a home (30%); and
  • Among parents of children under 18, setting up a college fund for their children (31%).

Smaller percentages indicate they have delayed getting married (14%), having children (13%), or having a cosmetic procedure (5%).

Many of these deferments are on the rise when compared to just two years ago, including a 9 point increase in delaying saving for a child’s education, a 6 point jump in holding off on home ownership and a 4 point increase in putting off retirement savings.

Majority of debtors across all institution types are satisfied with the return on their education investment

These are some of the results of The Harris PollĀ® of 2,273 U.S. adults surveyed online between July 15th and 20th, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

The majority of Americans feel the maximum amount of an individual’s salary that should go toward paying off student debt should be 10 percent or less (5 percent or less: 28%; 6-10 percent: 36%), and on average a maximum of roughly 16 percent is seen as the most that should be put toward loans.

So, is it worth it?

It’s worth noting, though, a large majority of debtors across all institution types say they are satisfied with the return on their investment. Satisfaction is highest among those who incurred student debt attending private, not-for-profit colleges (69%), followed by public colleges (64%), online colleges (61%), and private, for-profit colleges (58%).

Looking beyond just those who have incurred student debt, do Americans overall think college is worth it? Nearly two thirds of Americans (65%) believe a college education is worth the cost, and a nearly equal amount (63%) say the same of an advanced degree.

Furthermore, an even larger majority of Americans agree both an advanced degree (77%) and an undergraduate degree (72%) make graduates competitive in the global economy.

  • Those with degrees are more likely than those without to feel those degrees are worth the cost and make graduates competitive in the global economy.

What’s profit got to do with it?

Americans appear to look more favorably on those institutions not focused on their own bottom line. Nearly six in ten (59%) believe for-profit colleges don’t care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition, and overall, just over one third (36%) have a favorable opinion of private, for-profit institutions.

However, over six in ten (63%) look positively on public colleges and over half (56%) do the same for private, not-for-profit institutions.

  • Matures are more likely than all younger generations to have positive sentiments towards private, not-for-profit colleges (71% vs. 59% Baby Boomers, 54% Gen Xers & 51% Millennials).
  • Those with a college degree are more likely than those without to have a positive opinion of both public (82% post grad & 74% college grad vs. 60% some college & 55% high school or less) and private, not-for-profit colleges (75% post grad & 69% college grad vs. 53% some college & 48% high school or less).

Online, but off base?

Just one third (32%) of Americans give online colleges a positive rating overall, with one quarter (25%) giving them a negative one. They don’t paint all online programs with the same brush though – 58% say online programs with a physical campus do well in educating students. When looking at those without a physical campus, Americans are split almost evenly between the perceptions that these do an excellent or pretty good job of educating their students (38%) versus a fair or poor job (39%).

These less than stellar ratings should come as no surprise considering a majority of Americans (61%) believe online colleges don’t care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition.


This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between July 15th and 20th, 2015 among 2,273 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments.

Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

About The Harris PollĀ®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public.

New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website, TheHarrisPoll.com.


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