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Citizen support strong for higher ed

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 36 - July 25, 1996

Virginians are generally satisfied with higher education, recognize the importance of research at universities, and would support paying higher taxes to support education at all levels, according to the fifth-annual Quality of Life in Virginia survey, a telephone poll conducted by the Center for Survey Research at Virginia Tech to determine the perceptions of Virginia's citizens on issues and conditions affecting their lives.

The main objective of the survey is to gather information useful to state and local officials, said Alan E. Bayer, director of the center.

"For the most part, the 1996 Quality of Life (QOL) Survey results show that Virginia's citizens enjoy a satisfying quality of life across a broad array of domains," said Bayer, a sociology professor. Eighty-seven percent rate Virginia as a good or excellent place to live, overall.

"Nevertheless, the results suggest a number of areas in which citizens, their communities, state policy-makers, and the state government might take action to improve the living environment in the commonwealth," Bayer said.

"Answers to questions regarding education throughout the 1996 Quality of Life survey reflect continuing citizen concern," Bayer said.

Three-fourths of respondents say Virginia provides excellent or good K-12 public education; and 65 percent say Virginia's public schools do a good job of teaching math and science. However, 54 percent agree that not enough is spent on public schools while fewer than 5 percent say too much is spent; 49 percent agree state taxes should be increased to support public schools.

More citizens-51 percent of the respondents-believe taxes should be increased to support public higher education, an increase of 4 percent from last year. While 47 percent say public spending is about right, 32 percent say not enough is being spent for higher education. Fewer than 5 percent say there is too much spending.

Respondents also value the research contributions of public universities to the commonwealth: 71 percent agree they benefit from research at Virginia's universities, and 77 percent agree they benefit from agricultural research that takes place in public universities. Asked to evaluate the quality of education in a variety of specific areas, such as engineering, business, and science, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia were the most frequently mentioned of eight universities in all fields assessed.

Few think the state is spending too much on services, with one exception. For 13 out of 16 spending areas ranging from protection of the environment to drug prevention, fewer than one in 10 citizens say the state spends `too much'; however, one in four believe `too much' is being spent on jails and prisons-the least-favored category of spending over all five years of the survey.

In addition to Bayer, the Quality of Life in Virginia survey project for 1996 was organized by Deborah Collins, associate director of the Center for Survey Research, Michael B. Clark, data systems manager, and Susan M. Willis, projects manager. The annual survey project is supported by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. The 1996 survey also received support from the Lord Fairfax, New River Valley, and Fifth Planning District Commissions; New Century Council; West Point Public Schools; and Virginia Tech's Extension division and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The completion of 1,168 interviews provides a representative response with a plus-or-minus 2.9-percent margin of error.