Today’s global economy rewards nations with the most educated workforces. We saw the benefits of expanding access to free college in the second half of the 20th century when the GI Bill of Rights and then the Higher Education Act of 1965 were enacted to further encourage college enrollment. That investment in our veterans and others ready to contribute to our nation’s defense established the educational foundation for the rapid expansion of America’s middle class after 1950 and was worth every penny that the government spent on the program.
Now, as the idea of free public college tuition continues to gain support, state and federal elected officials are beginning to grapple with the real costs of making the next investment in our workforce’s education and attempting to determine what kind of return on investment (ROI) they might expect from doing so. To aid in this process, CFCT recently published a report written by Mark Schneider, one of the preeminent scholars of higher education finance in the country. The report gained immediate interest from the higher education community and was the subject of several articles, including in Politico’s Morning Education newsletter and the Dow Jones’ MarketWatch. It represents the first step in our plan to provide state leaders with the information they need to fashion the most effective free public college education for their state and to be able to calculate the ROI they will get from such an investment in their state’s economic future.
At the same time, we and other higher education non profits have begun to underline the increasing popularity of the idea of free college tuition. After all, without such support, few elected officials at any level will want to pursue such a major new policy initiative. As our exclusive Penn Schoen Berland poll showed, almost two-thirds of Americans (63%) favor the idea. A recent poll by New America has confirmed those results. It found 82% of Americans believe that in today’s economy a post-secondary education is necessary to “having a secure job that pays well.” And between 64% and 74% of respondents favored the idea of “debt free college” with the level of support depending on how much “skin in the game” students would have to put in in order to get such an education. The poll also found that universal access to free public college was more popular than plans which limited the opportunity to only lower and middle income families.
However, the same poll also found that 68% of Americans thought a national program to make public college’s tuition free would be more than the government could afford. This is very similar to the arguments that were put forward in the 20th century when it came to making a high school education free and universal, but eventually each community and state overcame that resistance and found the money to pay for them based on the economic return high schools brought to each state and community. We believe that with ever increasing evidence from pioneering communities and states, the same outcome will occur in regard to free public college.
That is why we are devoting much of our policy research this fall to the question of the cost and efficacy of free public college tuition at the state level. All of this policy work will be captured on our new Policy Resource Center web page. We encourage you to join the discussion and let your views on this critical issue be heard.
Our goal is to make higher education a possibility for every American, without regard to their financial circumstances.
We have a lot to do and not much time to do it, so your support is critical for our campaign to succeed. It’s with your investment that we can fundamentally reform how higher education is financed in this country, opening the doors to a more equitable society.
If you agree with our goal, our plan, and the urgency of the problem, we ask that you give what you can to help us write the next chapter in our nation’s history of continuously expanding access to universal, free education.