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: Most say the US is heading the wrong way, hope for new direction come November

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.

Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.

This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.

One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.

The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.

There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.

And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.

But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.

Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.

Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.

Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.

The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.

Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

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

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta

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Online:

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

 


AP-GfK Poll: No agreement on how to pay for highways

By JOAN LOWY and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Small wonder Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, unable to find a politically acceptable long-term source of funds. The public can’t make up its mind on how to pay for them either.

Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Yet there is scant support for some of the most frequently discussed options for paying for construction of new roads or the upkeep of existing ones, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.

Yet a majority of all Americans — 58 percent — oppose raising federal gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects such as the repair, replacement or expansion of roads and bridges. Only 14 percent support an increase. And by a better than 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Moving to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives also draws more opposition than support — 40 percent oppose it, while 20 percent support it.

Support for shifting more responsibility for paying for such projects to state and local government is a tepid 30 percent.

“Congress is actually reflecting what people want,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank. “People want to have a federal (transportation) program and they don’t want to pay for it.”

Last week, Congress cobbled together $10.8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing to states by changing how employers fund worker pension programs, extending customs user fees and transferring money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The money was needed to make up a shortfall between aid promised to states and revenue raised by the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.

It’s the fifth time in the last six years that Congress has patched a hole in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for highway and transit aid. Each time it gets more difficult for lawmakers to find the money without increasing the federal budget deficit. Critics described the pension funding changes used this time as budget gimmicks that would cost the government more in the long run and undermine employee pension programs.

The latest patch cleared Congress about three hours before midnight last Thursday, the day before the Transportation Department said it would begin cutting back aid payments to states. The current fix is only expected to cover the revenue gap through next May, when Congress will be back where it started unless lawmakers act sooner.

The most direct solution would be to raise fuel taxes. That’s what three blue-ribbon federal commissions have recommended. But opposition to a gas tax increase cuts across party lines, although Republicans are more apt to oppose an increase, 70 percent, than Democrats, 52 percent.

“Every time we turn around there’s another tax, and our gas taxes are so high now,” said James Lane, 52, of Henry County in rural south-central Virginia, who described himself as leaning toward the GOP.

Lane favors allowing companies to pay for the construction of new or expanded roads and bridges in exchange for the right impose tolls on motorists, often for many decades. There have been projects like that in Virginia, but since those roads are in more populated areas of the state where he doesn’t drive it makes sense to have the people who use them pay for them, he said.

But Michael Murphy, 63, a data services contractor who lives near San Antonio, Texas, where a high-speed public-private toll road is scheduled to open this fall, said he’d rather see gas taxes increased than tolls imposed on drivers. Roads benefit everyone, even if indirectly, so it’s only fair that everyone who drives pays something toward their cost, he said.

A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent that it’s stayed about the same.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet 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