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: Americans not confident in US government’s ability to minimize range of threats

By JILL COLVIN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability to protect their personal safety and economic security, a sign that their widespread unease about the state of the nation extends far beyond politics, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.

With Election Day about a month away, more than half those in the survey said Washington can do little to effectively lessen threats such as climate change, mass shootings, racial tensions, economic uncertainty and an unstable job market.

“I think what we’ve got going on here in America is the perfect storm of not good things,” said Joe Teasdale, 59, who lives in southwest Wisconsin and works as an assistant engineer at a casino.

For many of those questioned in the poll, conducted before doctors in Texas diagnosed a Liberian man with the Ebola virus, the concern starts with the economy.

The poll found that 9 in 10 of those most likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election call the economy an extremely or very important issue. Teasdale is among those who say the slow recovery from the recession is a top concern.

Despite improvements nationally, business is far from booming in his state, Teasdale said. He’s been supplementing his stagnant salary by renovating and renting out duplexes and has little faith the situation will improve soon. He wants government to get out of the way of business.

“If you’re putting so much restriction on them where it isn’t practical for them to expand or grow, why should they?” Teasdale asked.

Those surveyed also pointed to events such as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the fatal police shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old and the beheading of a woman in an Oklahoma food processing plant, apparently at the hand of a suspended co-worker.

“This is the first time I’ve felt insecure in my own country,” said Jan Thomas, 75, of Stevensville, Montana. “Especially after the beheading in Oklahoma. That’s scary.”

The poll found that Democrats tend to express more faith in the government’s ability to protect them than do Republicans. Yet even among Democrats, just 27 percent are confident the government can keep them safe from terrorist attacks. Fewer than 1 in 5 say so on each of the other issues, including climate change.

“There’s too many people who still don’t believe that it’s happening,” bemoaned Felicia Duncan, 53, who lives in Sharonville, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and works as an office manager at a mechanical contracting company.

Urbanites tend to be more confident the government will keep them safe from terrorist threats than do people living in suburbs and rural areas. Younger Americans are more confident than older people that the government can minimize the threat of mass shootings. When it comes to quelling racial tensions, Hispanics are more confident than are blacks and whites.

Thirteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and as the Obama administration conducts airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, only 1 in 5 in the poll say they are extremely or very confident the government can keep them safe from another terrorist attack. Four in 10 express moderate confidence.

While there has not been a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, roughly one-third of Americans say they are not too confident or not confident at all in the government’s ability to prevent another.

Bill Denison, 85, who lives in Bradenton, Florida, is among the minority who thinks the government is doing a good job keeping citizens safe, at least when it comes to preventing domestic attacks.

“Overall I think that the best job that we’ve done in this country is with anti-terrorism,” he said. “We’re doing a magnificent job and so far it’s been pretty successful.”

Still, he expressed disbelief at the recent security breaches involving Secret Service agents, including an incident in which a man scaled the White House fence and made his way deep into the executive mansion.

“The fact that a guy can run into the White House is pretty disturbing,” he said. “But we’re only human. And humans are going to make mistakes.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted September 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Half think US at high risk of terror attack, yet fewer are closely following airstrikes

By DEB RIECHMANN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Half of Americans think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, yet only a third are closely following news of U.S. airstrikes against Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

Most people do think the airstrikes are a good idea. Two-thirds of those questioned for an Associated Press-GfK poll say they favor the offensive by the U.S. and allies. And, despite, more than a decade of costly war, about one-third favor going beyond that and putting American military boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria.

President Barack Obama says he has no plans to send ground troops to either country. A little more than a third say they are opposed to the idea, and about one in four say they neither favor nor oppose it.

That’s thousands of miles away. What about concern at home?

According to the poll, most think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States, 53 percent, though just 20 percent call it an “extremely high risk.” An additional 32 percent say the nation is at moderate risk of a terrorist attack and 12 percent say it faces a low risk of terror attacks.

The poll has not asked that specific question in the past. However, the finding tracks with Pew Research Center data from July indicating that concern had ebbed somewhat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This summer, the Pew survey said 59 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat worried” that there would soon be another terrorist attack in the United States. That’s lower than the 73 percent that Pew found were concerned, following 9/11, that another attack was imminent and about the same as the 58 percent who were worried about another attack after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

There hasn’t been a massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Those in the AP-GfK survey are split on whether they approve of the way Obama is handling the threat from terrorism and specifically the threat posed by the Islamic State group. About half approve and about half disapprove of Obama’s actions to confront the threat. Still, those figures are better than Obama’s approval ratings for handling top domestic issues. Just 40 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 41 percent approve of his work on health care and 34 percent approve of the way he’s handling immigration.

Douglas Dowden, 49, a native of San Diego who now lives in central California, said he thinks the threat from the Islamic State group is overblown. He doesn’t support Obama’s decision to launch airstrikes.

“How many terror threat attacks happen in countries like say Spain, Italy, the U.S.? It’s not that often. I have more fear of what some whack job locally is going to do — that’s more of a concern to me than some potential threat from some extremist group,” Dowden said.

Dowden is among the 37 percent surveyed who said they were following news about the airstrikes “somewhat closely.” About 32 percent of those surveyed are paying close attention to the military action, and 30 percent say they’re barely monitoring the U.S. military action.

“I’m really not following it. There is so much terrible news and I’d rather follow the domestic news than the foreign news — but I still am interested in what’s going on,” said Betty Masket, a 91-year-old retired government health science administrator from Chevy Chase, Maryland. “I really feel sorry for Obama. I think he’s doing the best he can.”

Keith Fehser, 55, a commodities trader from suburban Chicago, says Americans need to see terrorism as an extremely important issue, yet they don’t.

“I just think it’s only going to get worse,” Fehser said. “Even though the government tries its best to keep on top of it, it’s just lunacy out there with what can be done by just small groups of people.”

He said most people he talks with don’t care much about the U.S. airstrikes on Iraq and Syria. “It’s a long way away. As long as we’re not letting our own people get killed, I don’t think they care that much,” he said, adding that he would be “very disgusted” if American combat troops were sent back to the region.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Online:

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