Rebuilding Public Trust in Higher Education

A Social Intelligence Report

Social Intelligence Reveals the Path to Rebuild Trust

Trust and confidence in higher education have been declining for years—it’s a daily news story. But what’s the solution? How do higher ed leaders regain trust and deepen their stakeholder relationships?

We set out to understand the general perceptions of the value of higher education, why it's declined, and identify paths to rebuilding trust in higher education's ability to increase social mobility and have a positive impact on society.

To understand how to rebuild, we needed to understand the current landscape.

The Research

Our experts examined how individuals think and feel about the value of higher education by analyzing more than 13,000 online mentions from June–December 2023, deriving insights into how audiences discuss the purpose, value, and outcomes of higher education.

Is a College Degree Worth It?

Audiences regularly contemplate or question the value of a college degree and if it’s “worth it.” For them, trust is synonymous with value and the conversation was overwhelmingly neutral or negative, even when searching for positive messages.

Access the report

College Can "Open Doors"

Despite the neutrality, more than a third of the public sees value in college. The value or worth often extends back to their original reason for attending college—the potential for unmatched opportunities and its ability to “open doors.” Conversations mentioned diversified career paths, higher earning potential, broader professional networks, and valuable connections.

But a Gap Still Exists

The findings prove the existence of a public perception gap—almost half of the conversation included cautionary advice for prospective students. Individuals offer suggestions and advice to help them fully leverage their college experience, with clear goals, outcomes, and plans in mind.

Two students thinking with speech bubbles reading "Is college worth it?" "Maybe ..."
Liz Gross

“Understanding the gap—the difference between what is true about the value of a college degree and what the public believes to be true for themselves and others—is vital to design a strategy that changes behavior along with hearts and minds.”

—Liz Gross, Founder and CEO, Campus Sonar