Poll: 60% of Americans Favor Free Public Four-Year College

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 14, 2011, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT - FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 file picture, students attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The number of borrowers defaulting on federal student loans has jumped sharply, the latest indication that …
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A new poll published at school reform journal Education Next states a free ride at a public four-year college is a popular concept in the country, with 60 percent of Americans supporting the idea.

According to the survey, respondents were asked two questions:

  • Do you support or oppose making all public two-year colleges in the United States free to attend?
  • Do you support or oppose making all public four-year colleges in the United States free to attend?

For both two-year and four-year schools, free tuition is a welcome concept, according to the poll, with 60 percent of those surveyed stating they endorse free public four-year college and 69 percent in support of free public two-year college.

Education Next

Education Next

When a person’s political party is a factor, 79 percent of Democrats said they support free four-year schools and 85 percent endorse free tuition for two-year schools. However, just 35 percent of Republicans said they support free tuition for four-year schools, with 55 percent opposed. Republicans were evenly split in this poll over free public two-year colleges: 47 percent in support and 47 percent opposed.

Education Next then reported a polling “experiment” in order to investigate whether a reminder of the economic benefits of a college education would influence opinions about free college tuition. Some survey participants were randomly chosen to obtain information about the average annual earnings of two-year or four-year college graduates.

“Respondents answering the two-year-college question were told that graduates of these schools earn $46,000 each year, on average, over the course of their working lives,” Education Nextstated. “Respondents who got the four-year-college question learned that graduates of these schools earn $61,400 annually, on average, over the course of their working lives.”

Results showed information about earnings had little effect on views of free tuition.

Those respondents with the earnings information about two-year graduates dropped only four percentage points — from 69 percent to 65 percent — in their support for free college tuition. Support for free tuition at public four-year colleges, when earnings information was provided (62 percent), did not show a statistically significant change from results in which earnings information was not offered (60 percent).

The promotion of free college tuition has returned as a popular issue among 2020 Democrat candidates, with most of them touting plans for some version of free tuition.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), and former Obama housing head Julian Castro have endorsed free tuition at all public institutions of higher education.

The Education Next poll sought responses from a sample of 3,046 adults, including oversamples of teachers (667), African Americans (597), and Hispanics (648).


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