WILKES-BARRE — A plurality of nearly 2,000 area college students feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.
However, the students aren’t sure if the same applies to Pennsylvania — which may mean the respondents are less informed about state events than national news.
All this comes from a recent poll conducted by The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development at Wilkes University, which launched the polling program in 2014. The Institute regularly polls students at other local colleges as part of its work.
The numbers show 47 percent believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction, with 16 percent saying things are going in the right direction and 13 percent not sure. About 25 percent of those polled, meanwhile, opted for this answer: “Neither the right nor the wrong direction.”
As for state results, only 18 percent felt Pennsylvania was trending in the wrong direction while 14 percent said it was on the right course and 42 percent were not sure.
The discrepancy in numbers could also mean that national media is more polarizing, permitting easier commitment to a particular direction, an Institute report shows.
The poll taken in the fall of 2017 also assesses students’ opinions about the importance of certain public policy issues and their level of civic engagement. A total of 1,995 students participated — from all class years and a variety of majors. Part-time and graduate students were also included.
‘Students are passionate’
Some of the highlights of the poll:
• Just under 90 percent of students reported feeling “Very” or “Somewhat” informed on current events. Their primary sources for this information include websites and blogs, television, social media, and word of mouth.
•While over 80 percent of respondents suggested they had some level of experience volunteering for an off-campus non-profit, less than 20 percent had volunteered for a political cause or candidate.
• The majority of respondents found each of the public policy issues in question to be of some level of personal importance. Only four of the 14 issues in question received over 10 percent of respondents rating them “Not very” or “Not at all” important, while none received over 15 percent in these categories.
Teri Ooms, the institute’s executive director, said this proves important as all participants are of voting age, and over 75 percent are registered to vote in the U.S. The distribution of these voters among political parties was reasonably even across the two major parties, with 2 percent more Democratic-affiliated voters than Republican. However, 8 percent were unsure of their affiliation.
• Although the majority of respondents indicated they did not vote in a 2017 primary, over 50 percent endorsed one of the top two levels of likelihood of voting in the coming November election.
“This study reiterates what we already know: college students are passionate about the direction of the country and highly invested in the future,” said Patrick F. Leahy, president of Wilkes University. “It is our duty to help this generation connect their views and concerns to politics and government, reiterating that every vote counts.”
• Students are increasingly concerned about policies pertaining to the environment. Compared to prior years, they feel less strongly about taxes, jobs, the economy, and efficiency of government.
• Students’ sources of news have consolidated around internet outlets over the past three years — newspapers, television, and radio have seen declines in popularity.
Cost of college
“The ‘cost of college education’ as the top public policy issue with 63 percent of students rating it as ‘Very Important’ is striking,” said Dale Jones, Ph.D., Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer, Penn State Wilkes-Barre. “At Penn State Wilkes-Barre, we are highly cognizant of cost pressures on students and families and, therefore, we ensure students receive a quality education for their tuition dollars.”
Jones was also pleased to learn from the poll that students are well-engaged in volunteer activities.
“It is beneficial for our community that 61 percent of students volunteered time regularly or occasionally at off-campus non-profit organizations and almost half attended a local public meeting,” Jones said. “I am optimistic about their future involvement in community affairs to help advance our region.”
The median age of respondents was 20, the largest share of respondents (49 percent) came from the age group of 18 to 19, followed by 20 to 21 (25 percent). When asked about the zip code of their home, just over 57 percent reported a zip code from Pennsylvania.