In one of the most fractious and turbulent moments in America’s history, few issues inspire support across ideological and generational lines. But, as new nationwide polling shows, publicly funded free college tuition is one of those rare proposals that unites Americans — and retains that support.
National polling conducted in February by PSB Research for the Campaign for Free College Tuition reveals that fully 8 in 10 Americans (81%) want their state to provide free tuition to public colleges and universities to any academically qualified student.
Even more striking, that powerful support has held steady since PSB last polled Americans in November. This new research reflects consistent growth in public support for free college tuition since CFCT and PSB first studied the question in late 2016.
Last month’s research also helps clarify why free college tuition now has near-consensus national support: Americans agree that free tuition opens the door to greater economic opportunity for hardworking students and the families they care for.
The survey suggested eight different reasons why state provided free college tuition is a good idea and most of the representative sample of 800 Americans interviewed found each of them to be believable and persuasive.
One message especially resonates with those polled: Lack of money shouldn’t keep qualified students from going to college, and my state should help. 8 in 10 Americans find that message believable (81%) and persuasive (79%). Even more impressive, most Americans call that argument very believable (54%), and half say it’s very persuasive (49%).
The second most compelling argument? We need to make college free so young people don’t have a mountain of debt when they finish school. 78% find it believable, half (49%) very much so. And 3 in 4 (75%) call it persuasive, 46% percent strongly so.
The power of free college tuition to “strengthen our nation by providing people the tools they need to help their families” also landed strongly – 79% call it believable and 77% call it persuasive.
The consistent theme across these top-ranking messages? They emphasize both the fundamental fairness and economic opportunity that free college tuition affords – a chance for young people to earn the American Dream for themselves and their families, regardless of their prior good fortune.
Given how well free tuition fits the American belief that those who work hard should have the chance to get ahead, it’s no surprise that free tuition has earned growing support across the political spectrum. A full two-thirds (67%) of conservatives support state-funded free tuition (35% strongly), as do four out of five independents and 93% of liberals who back federal funding for free tuition.
And, as politicians and parties vie for the support of America’s growing Hispanic electorate, they should keep in mind just how strongly those Americans support free tuition. CFCT’s latest poll finds that 3 in 5 (61%) American Hispanics strongly support state-funded free tuition, while their overall support hits a near-consensus 88%.
As America’s leaders try to bridge our divides and find meaningful solutions to our social and economic challenges, CFCT’s polling reveals just how powerful and unifying the message for free college tuition is. It galvanizes a growing majority of Americans and unites us across political and demographic lines, reflecting our common values of fairness and opportunity.
Adam Gerchick spent several years as a PSB Research pollster and consultant before leaving the firm to pursue law and business degrees at Georgetown University in 2017.
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.