It is no secret that universities are often widely viewed as bastions of liberal thought. Some might argue this is the natural product of an environment that promotes free thought, where young people are encouraged to challenge preconceived assumptions. Others might argue that it is the product of insulated campus communities that have evolved in a protective bubble, free from the challenges of real-world pressures.

That most college campuses lean to the left is no surprise. What is surprising is a new report by the Pew Research Center on Americans’ view of national institutions. The report shows that a growing number of Republicans hold higher education in disdain. According to the annual report, which was released Monday, a remarkable shift in attitudes about higher education has occurred among people who identify as Republicans and people who lean Republican.

Two years ago, 54 percent of those who identified as Republicans said colleges had a positive impact on America, with only 37 percent saying that higher education has a negative impact on the country’s direction. But the latest edition of the survey found that a whopping 58 percent now rate higher education as having a negative effect while only 36 percent say colleges have a positive effect.

The survey was conducted last month, and included 2,504 adults. Within that group, younger Republicans think more highly of higher education — with 44 percent of 18- to 49-year-olds and 52 percent of those 18 to 29 saying it has a positive impact on the direction America is heading.

Older and more educated Republicans, however, now say that higher education has a negative impact on the country. Among Republicans who hold a college or graduate degree, a positive view of higher education dropped by 11 percentage points, from 44 percent to 33 percent, in the past two years. And it fell at an even sharper rate, 20 percent, among Republicans without a college degree.

Even more troubling, the wealthiest in the group have among the most negative opinions of the impact colleges have on our nation. Only 31 percent of those who earn $75,000 a year in family income held a positive view, while 46 percent of Republicans who earn less than $30,000 had a positive outlook on colleges.

It isn’t entirely clear what has led to the dramatic change in attitudes. It could be that more GOP politicians are touting the value of traditionally blue-collar trades in a changing economy. Or perhaps it is a push back on the increasing cost of tuition and the burden of college loans. Further still, it could be the reaction to several high-profile news stories about controversies that have exploded on college campuses recently when conservative speakers have been invited to speak only to meet with raucous opposition.

Whatever the cause, it doesn’t bode well, either for the universities nationwide that count on public funding, or for the public they’re trying to serve.

— The Tuscaloosa News, Tuscaloosa, Alabama