More Research Demonstrating Public Support Of Free College Programs Is Impacted By Program Design

Posted by Jack MacKenzie on May 07, 2020 at 7:00 AM

Last month, Dr. Elizabeth Bell, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Miami University of Ohio, indicated in a blog post that “program design is an important predictor of public support for tuition-free college, with universal policies with minimum academic requirements commanding the broadest base of support.” We agree!

Her research indicated:

  • Making tuition-free college available to all in-state students regardless of family income increased perceptions of fairness by 3.3 percentage points.
  • Including a 2.0 minimum high school GPA threshold increased perceptions of fairness by 6.5 percentage points.

These results are remarkably similar to recent surveys done for the Campaign for Free College Tuition by PSB Research.

In addition to the income and high school GPA requirements, the recent academic study by Professor Bell also polled the public about their support for other requirements like college counseling, financial counseling, and community service. The graph below displays the most widely supported requirements for students, which shows college counseling is the most popular and public service requirements are the least popular.

Once again, these polling results are remarkably similar to the recent surveys done for the Campaign for Free College Tuition by PSB Research.

PSB’s survey showed that adding a requirement that students got good grades in high school and college and attended full time generated more support for the program with minimal opposition to including them. Similar support was voiced for making sure those eligible were permanent residents who didn’t use drugs. But a requirement to require students to work in the state upon graduation generated the most opposition with much less support for the full program. Even less effective in gaining support for a program of free college tuition were requirements to attend meetings with mentors or do community service in return for the benefit—both of which are very common in state programs beginning with the first one in Tennessee.

All of these results suggest that policy makers seeking to design the most popular free college tuition program possible should make it universally available for academically qualified students and keep the program as simple as possible by not adding additional requirements for students to be eligible to go to college tuition free.


Jack MacKenzie is the Founder and CEO of CollegeAPP, a higher education focused data analytics and consulting firm. CollegeAPP is a proprietary application of predictive analytics designed to help colleges and universities identify adults who have intent to acquire additional education.

MacKenzie serves on the National Advisory Board for the Elon University School of Communications and is a member of the Strategic Advisory Committee for the Campaign for Free College Tuition.  

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