The majority of the American public agrees higher education institutions should reduce their tuition rates and award students credit for competency instead of time, according to a poll released last week.

American adults overwhelmingly desire a new system of credentials that emphasizes the outcomes of competencies of higher learning, rather than simply the 16 weeks students take classes each semester, according to the Gallup/Lumina Foundation for Education poll.

Out of more than 1,000 respondents surveyed in November and December, 87 percent said students should be able to receive credit for the skills and knowledge they gain outside of classrooms. Additionally, 70 percent said learning should not be based on time, but rather, students should be able to acquire credit if they show they have mastered the course material in less than the traditional 16-week session.

University of Wisconsin Vilas Distinguished Professor Clifton Conrad said there needs to be a more efficient way to educate students than cramming hundreds of them into a single lecture hall. 

“I think we can be prisoner of the traditional classroom format and I think we need to innovate it,” Conrad said. “At the same time, we suggest that just securing credit hours is good at all without having an idea of what a college education is and clear set of expectations for a college graduate.”

Conrad said he is optimistic UW is making a push for increased efficiency at reduced costs. He said he encourages use of massive, open online courses and noted the UW System has taken a huge step in the right direction through the flexible degree program, if executed correctly.

About a quarter of respondents in the poll said the cost of higher education is affordable to anyone who needs it. Two-thirds said these institutions should decrease tuition and fees. The majority of Americans also believe state and federal governments should provide more assistance to those who want to go to college, according to the poll.

Conrad added UW’s tuition is higher than it needs to be because of repeated funding cuts from the state. He said he thinks UW is heading in the direction of University of Michigan or University of Virginia and state funding will drop below 10 percent in upcoming years.

“Our tuition is relatively low for a world-class university,” Conrad, a higher education program quality expert, said. “Having said that, the costs have still gone up very dramatically in recent years. I think tuition has become too high.”

Conrad noted UW recently raised the rate of out-of-state students by 2 percent to increase the amount of money the university takes in from undergraduates.

Despite these calls for change within the higher education system, Americans still agree having a college degree is valuable to getting a job and financial security, according Vice President for Policy and Strategy of the Lumina Foundation Dewayne Matthews.

“We would say the main takeaways are that the public overwhelmingly understands the need for the U.S. to significantly increase higher education attainment,” Matthews said in an an email in to The Badger Herald. He added 97 percent of Americans share the opinion that having more than just a high school degree or certificate is important to a person’s financial security.