BY CONNIE CASS, The Associated Press

No matter how many subjects they’re acing, most college students these days find economics a grind. Tricky financial calculations influence everything from what school they attend and what major they choose to how quickly they finish their degrees — or whether they graduate at all.

Money problems, not bad grades, are the reason cited by most college students who have considered dropping out, an Associated Press-Viacom poll finds.

Almost six in 10 students rely on loans to help with college costs, and nearly half who do say they’re uncomfortable with the debt. A majority of students at four-year colleges say they routinely feel at least a little worried about having enough money to make it through the week, according to the poll, conducted in partnership with Stanford University.

Scrimping has long been part of the college experience, of course, but tough times in the real world mean even tighter money on campus.

Recession-battered parents have less money to spend on their kids’ tuition. Jobs that used to be waiting upon graduation aren’t there anymore — consumed by the nation’s 8.8 percent unemployment rate. And college prices keep going up, as states struggle with budget deficits. Average tuition, room and board rose to about $16,000 at in-state public schools this year and $37,000 at private schools.

Most college students — 84 percent — need more than one source of cash to keep up, the poll of people ages 18 to 24 found.

About two-thirds say they work part-time or more to help pay for college. That’s supplemented by another popular source of funds: Mom and Dad. Six in 10 get help from parents. The same number rely on scholarships for part of the bill.

“For a while, I couldn’t find a job, and it was like, ‘How am I going to eat? And how am I going to get to school if I don’t have gas?’” said Allyson Bure, 20, a nursing student who works two part-time jobs, as a clerk at a Fashion Bug store and as a hotel housekeeper.

Like 57 percent of college students surveyed, Bure depends on student loans. Including debt she racked up at another school, she expects to owe about $52,000 by the time she finishes her associate’s degree at Trocaire College in East Aurora, N.Y. Then she hopes to transfer to a university.

Many students are uneasy about borrowing, with good reason. The U.S. Education Department says 7 percent of borrowers default within two years of beginning repayment on loans that can stretch for a decade or more. Average student loan debt tops $23,000.

Bure’s confident that she’ll earn enough to pay off her loans. She’s studying to become a nurse anesthetist, a job that can pay well over $100,000 per year. “I’ll be secure,” she predicts.

Despite the rising costs, 85 percent of students and recent grads say college is worth the time and money. In overwhelming numbers, they express satisfaction with the education they’ve received. And they have wide expectations for that education: Most say it’s very or extremely important that colleges broaden students’ knowledge and expand their minds, help them gain life skills, expose them to new experiences and train them for a career.

Nine out of 10 expect to find a job in their field. And for most, that’s the bottom line. Fifty-five percent say an education that focuses on success in the working world is more valuable than one focused on general knowledge and critical thinking.

With that pragmatic attitude, many treat education like a commodity to be shaped to fit their needs and budgets.

Most college students say cost was a big factor in determining where they applied and which school they ended up attending. A hefty majority — 86 percent — say it’s worthwhile to switch programs if you’re not getting exactly what you want from a school. A third said they added another major to increase their options after graduation.

Three-fourths say it’s more important to take the time to get exactly what they want from their education than to finish within the traditional four years, and a quarter who have finished took extra time.

On the other hand, lots of students are racing to the finish in order to save money.

About four in 10 college students hope to graduate in less than four years. To get a jump start, 58 percent of students took college-credit courses in high school. And about half earned credits at a community college before moving on to a more expensive bachelor’s degree program.

That’s what Falma Habbaba is doing. Once she’s finished two years at Cuyamaca College, she plans to transfer to nearby San Diego State University. Half of the college students surveyed, including Habbaba, hope to continue their educations beyond a four-year degree. In her case, it’s law school that beckons.

Habbaba, 18, has been relying on grants and a part-time job as a restaurant hostess to pay her way, and she worries about finding enough money to finish her schooling. But she’s optimistic that she’ll achieve career happiness. So are 94 percent of the college students surveyed.

For half of college students, money was a big factor in choosing what career to pursue. But more than one-fourth say that didn’t enter into their thinking at all.

“If you do what you love, you’ll be all right in life,” Habbaba said.

The AP-Viacom telephone survey of 1,104 adults ages 18 to 24 was conducted Feb. 18 to March 6 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Stanford University’s participation in this project was made possible by a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson, AP Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

How the poll was conducted


The Associated Press-Viacom Survey of Youth on Education by Stanford University was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Feb. 18 to March 6. It is based on landline and cell phone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,104 adults between 18 and 24 years old. Interviews were conducted with 603 respondents on landline telephones and 501 on cellular phones.

The sample included 253 African-Americans, 100 of whom were an oversample to have a sufficient number to analyze their responses as a group. Results were then weighted so that African-Americans reflected their correct proportion within the total sample.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

For the African-American sample, the portion from the core survey and the oversample were weighted to reflect the African-American 18- to 24-year-old population on Hispanic ethnicity, educational attainment, region and age within sex.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://surveys.ap.org.

 

AP-GfK: Poll shows divide over increasing money for transit

WASHINGTON (AP) — A slight majority of Americans prefer living in a single-family house in the suburbs or a rural area with more land, even if it means driving long distances to get to work or run errands, according to a poll by The Associated Press-GfK.

However, a significant minority, 44 percent, would choose an apartment or smaller house in an urban area that comes with a short drive to work or the opportunity to use public transportation, bike or walk. The split also has a political aspect: Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents prefer suburban or rural living, while 55 percent of Democrats prefer urban areas.

The share of Americans who prefer suburban or rural living — 53 percent — is identical to the share who say the government should increase spending to build and improve roads, bridges and interstate highways. About 1 in 3 think current spending levels are about right, while just over 1 in 10 would like to see less money spent on roads.

Many states are struggling just to maintain current spending levels, and Congress has been unable to come up with a long-term plan to pay for highway aid that closes the gap between current spending and federal gas tax revenue.

Americans are more divided over building and improving public transportation such as rail and bus systems. Four in 10 say spending on public transportation should be increased, but just as many say current spending is about right. Only 18 percent say transit spending should be cut.

Contrary to the widely held notion that the millennial generation is flocking to cities and giving up their cars, younger people are not significantly more or less likely than older people to prefer urban living with a shorter commute and access to public transit, the poll found.

Matthew Wild, 33, an airline pilot living in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, said he favors increasing spending on both public transit and highways. The region’s freeways “take a real beating” from the traffic and need to be maintained, he said, but no new lanes should be added.

“We definitely don’t need to be expanding freeways anymore,” Wild said. “We’ve maxed out.”

He cited a highway near his home that was recently widened and now is as full as ever. He does, however, strongly support building more light rail transit locally and high-speed rail between California cities.

Wild said he’d much rather take a convenient local train than fight traffic in his car. He currently takes trains only a few times a year because there are no direct routes from where he lives to the places he wants to go, and indirect routes take too long, he said.

“The big problem with L.A. is that, given the lack of public transportation, sitting in traffic in your own car is still faster than taking public transit,” Wild said.

Jane McEntire, 62, who lives in Cartersville, Georgia, on the northwest fringe of the Atlanta metropolitan area, says traffic is horrible and getting worse.

Even so, she’d rather keep spending on roads and cut spending on public transportation. She says she’s lost confidence in the ability of state and local transportation officials to make improvements and not fritter money away on wasteful projects.

She is particularly incensed that officials used federal transit aid to build a slow-moving streetcar line in downtown Atlanta that is used primarily by tourists.

“I think they look really cute, but as far as usefulness — no,” she said. “When you have federal dollars that are coming into a state that are available and you spend it on these cars in Atlanta that go six or eight blocks back and forth … Why didn’t they take that money and spend it on something to help commuters?”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online from April 23 to 27 using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


AP-GfK Poll: Many approve Iran deal; Most don’t trust Tehran
WASHINGTON (AP) — Many Americans like the idea of the preliminary deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program but very few people really believe Tehran will follow through with the agreement.

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that just 3 percent said they were very confident that Iran would allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, remove plutonium from the country and shut down close to half of its uranium-enriching centrifuges as the preliminary deal says would be required. Nearly seven in 10 people said they were not confident, while 25 percent said they were only moderately confident.

The U.S., Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China are aiming to finalize a deal with Iran by June 30 that puts limits on Iranian programs that could be used to make nuclear arms. In exchange, economic sanctions on Iran would be lifted over time. Tehran denies any interest in such weapons but is negotiating in hopes of relief from billions of dollars in economic sanctions.

The next round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers will start Tuesday in Vienna.

Although more than half of Americans polled say they approve of making the deal, few people — 16 percent — are actually paying close attention to the complex Iran negotiations that have angered Israel and unnerved Gulf nations who are concerned about Tehran’s rising influence and aggressive behavior in the region.

The Senate last week passed legislation that would give Congress time to vote to reject any deal before sanctions are lifted. President Barack Obama would retain the right to veto lawmakers’ disapproval.

Israel’s strong objections to the deal could make a difference to many Americans. If forced to choose, a majority say it’s more important to maintain the U.S. relationship with Israel than to strike a deal with Iran. But respondents are divided along party lines, with nearly six in 10 Democrats saying the Iran deal is more important while seven in 10 Republicans believe ties with Israel are more critical.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been one of the harshest critics of the deal with Iran. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran’s missile capabilities and its support for violent militant groups.

More broadly, the poll found that Americans are increasingly interested in the U.S. role in world affairs, with 60 percent saying it’s an extremely important issue, up from 52 percent less than five months ago. Slightly more people also approve of Obama’s handling of the issue, increasing from 38 percent in December to 42 percent in the latest poll. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the issue.

But overall, Americans are more likely to trust Republicans than Democrats to handle protecting the country.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com