Millennials care deeply about education, but perceptions of its impact and how to resolve some of the challenges facing higher education vary across racial and ethnic lines.

A GenForward survey found that millennials are split on the fundamental issue of what the main goal of a public school education should be. Nearly four out of 10 millennials believe that the main goal of education should be academic preparation, and just under three in 10 believe it should prepare students to be good citizens. The remainder believe that the purpose of education should be workforce preparation.

“The findings challenge a fair amount of existing preconceived notions about millennial viewpoints on race and education and the notion that millennials are a monolithic group,” said Dakarai Aarons, vice president of strategic communications for the Data Quality Campaign.

Millennials are divided on whether college is a necessary pathway to success. The majority of Latino and Asian Americans millennials believe that college is necessary to succeed, while more White and Black millennials are likely to say that college is one of many pathways to success.

“This is not to say that they don’t believe in college or the importance of higher education, it’s just that they are more likely to say there are alternative ways of achieving success in society,” said Dr. Vladimir E. Medenica, postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago.

More than 80 percent of millennials say that they support the concept of free college tuition. While Black, Asian American and Latino millennials were more or less unified in their support for free college, fewer white millennials were. Only 73 percent White millennials said they supported free college, compared to 85 percent of millennials of color.

Millennials hold differing views on college access and affordability. Only a small fraction — approximately one in 10 — say that college is affordable and that everyone who wishes to go, can. They majority, or 63 percent across all racial lines, believe that college should be affordable to all provided that students are willing and able to take out loans and work part-time to fund their education. About a quarter believe that only the wealthy can afford to attend college.

In addition to college costs, freedom of expression at schools has been a point of contention in recent years, with protests erupting around the appearance of controversial speakers.

In general, millennials are supportive of limiting the expression of political views that are considered upsetting or offensive to certain groups on college campuses. Nearly half of Latino, Asian American, and White millennials were in favor of limiting freedom of expression on college campuses in extreme cases. Just over a third of Black millennials agreed.

Similarly, those who said that such speech should not be limited at all were again more or less unified by race, with one exception. Approximately a quarter of all Asian American, Black and Latino millennials said that it should not be limited, compared to the 38 percent of White respondents who said that it should not be limited.

According to its website, the GenForward Survey is a product of the GenForward Project at the University of Chicago, and is “the first of its kind—a nationally representative survey of over 1750 young adults ages 18-34 conducted bi-monthly that pays special attention to how race and ethnicity shape how respondents experience and think about the world.”

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.

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