- Universities and colleges will need to strengthen trust among young adults to grow enrollments and endowments, argues a new report from Morning Consult, a decision intelligence firm.
- Trust in colleges is lower among young adults than any other age group. Just over half of Gen Zers reported at least some trust in U.S. universities, compared to almost 65% of baby boomers.
- A majority of students and employers, 56% and 54% respectively, indicated trust will play an important role in a university’s future reputation.
At a time when American institutions across the board are taking hits to their trustworthiness, colleges outranked the government, corporations and media organizations on the trust scale — even by groups who broadly reported low levels of trust , the report found. Morning Consult defined trust as the belief in an institution to do the right thing.
The approval for colleges stems from people's recognition of education’s impact on society, according to Rahul Choudaha, managing director of higher education at Morning Consult.
"Other institutions, like U.S. corporations, may be perceived as very commercial and driven by different motivations," Choudaha said. "Higher education's mission, purpose and impact is really valued by the public."
Researchers conducted two surveys in mid June, one with over 11,000 adults and one among 1,000 high schoolers ages 16-18. Among adults, 51% said they tend to trust U.S. colleges and that the institutions would need to do something bad to lose that trust.
But disaggregating the data shows divides along political lines. Among Democrats, 66% said they trust colleges, compared to only 42% of Republicans.
On an institutional level, maintaining a strong public image is important for universities looking to strengthen trust. Two-thirds of adults surveyed said it is at least somewhat important for them to have previously heard about a college to trust it.
Gen Z adults agreed at a similar rate, but only 41% said they tend to trust U.S. colleges and universities.
"There's a level of cynicism there," Choudaha said. "Universities need to focus on understanding Gen Z in general and the high school pipeline more specifically. With such a deluge of information, high school students are distrusting of what's just floating around social media."
Trust comes into play for high school students choosing colleges, as they seek recommendations from someone they trust on prospective colleges, according to the report.
About four in 10 high school students said hearing from a university’s current students or alumni would be a top source of information to increase trust in an institution. To capitalize on this, Choudaha recommended using an alumni network as a targeted way to reach prospective students.