Poll Shows Support Across the Aisle for State Free College Programs

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

A majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support state programs that would make college tuition-free for certain students, according to a poll released last week.

The poll, conducted by Penn Schoen Berland on behalf of the Campaign for Free College Tuition (CFCT) showed that more than three-quarters of Hillary Clinton supporters (88 percent) and more than half of Donald Trump voters (54 percent) supported state initiatives to make college tuition-free. Overall, 73 percent of those surveyed supported free tuition for certain qualified students. Breaking the results down by political party, 89 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Republicans, and 71 percent of Independents supported state tuition-free college initiatives.

Within states won by President-elect Donald Trump, 69 percent supported state tuition-free college initiatives, compared with 78 percent in states won by Clinton.

Overall, the majority of respondents (66 percent) said it is very or extremely important for young people to go to college. When broken down by political affiliation, or location, a majority of respondents still responded the same way.  

When asked about the specific requirements of state-level programs, those surveyed appeared to more strongly support academic requirements, such as high school and college GPA requirements. On the other hand, 42 percent supported programs limited to those who “otherwise couldn’t afford” college, the poll found. Less than half of those surveyed (48 percent) supported programs for all students “regardless of income.”

There was also strong support for requirements that would ask students to make an academic (53 percent) or behavioral (51 percent) pledge.

According to CFCT President Morley Winograd, the poll “indicates that making public college tuition free for those academically qualified is embraced across the political spectrum.”

“On the state level, Governors from both red and blue states have released, or enacted, well received bold plans to make college tuition free,” Winograd said in a statement. “With a college degree or certificate being increasingly necessary for success and the price of tuition rising faster than any other item in a family’s budget, I expect others will follow the lead of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R) and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D).”

Although the political landscape has shifted since the free college movement gathered steam under President Barack Obama’s call for America’s College Promise, there appears to still be desire at the state level to develop these sorts of programs. NASFAA’s Assessing Tuition- and Debt-Free Higher Education Task Force in January released a report to help inform state and local program development for the short term and perhaps form a framework for a national program at some point in the more distant future.


Publication Date: 1/17/2017

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