When it comes to supporting or opposing government policies the mantra of follow the money becomes clear. People reveal their priorities when they tell their governments how to spend their hard earned tax contributions.
Recently, the Campaign for Free College Tuition and PSB Research asked Americans to prioritize how their state tax dollars should be spent. Americans have a strong and consistent message to their state governments – make sure healthcare is available and make sure young Americans have the opportunity to get the education needed to be successful. In recent months we saw Americans rally on the healthcare issue. Now it appears the prospect of making 2 and 4 year colleges’ tuition free might just be the next government priority rallying cry.
Designed to replicate the real life challenges of policy making, we asked the question of priorities two different ways. First, which programs should governments reduce in order to pay for a free tuition policy and, in a better case scenario, how should a state government prioritize the spending of a new revenue source? In the latter scenario, respondents were asked to prioritize the following nine potential spending priorities, offered in random order to avoid prejudicing the results:
Free 2 year tuition
Free 4 year tuition
Roads & Bridges
Parks and Natural resources
In all demographic and political groupings, Americans agree Healthcare and K-12 Education should remain the highest priorities for state government spending. Free College for both 2 and 4 year institutions emerged as the next spending priority among all adult Americans.
For all respondents and all age groups under 55, free 2-year tuition ranked 3rd and free 4-year tuition ranked 4th among the nine categories tested. Democrats and Independents mirror the overall findings, while self-identified Republicans are warmer to making 2-year college tuition free, which they ranked 4th behind spending on roads and bridges than Free Tuition at 4-year schools, which they ranked 8th.
The results were similar, and therefore reinforcing, when Americans were asked what funding they would favor reducing to make room for a free college policy. The only spending priorities off the table are Healthcare and K-12 Education. If faced with choices, governments should know that prisons, public transportation and parks and natural resource funding appear to be the programs voters would most like to see cut.
These findings reinforce the continuing rise in public support the Campaign for Free College Tuition has been measuring in 2017. During this year, “Strong Support” for the concept has risen from 35% to the potential tipping point of 50% among all Americans. Overall support now stands at 81%, practically a consensus in American politics these days.
As state legislatures get down to business next year and as candidates jockey for support in the 2018 mid-term elections, free college tuition will no doubt become an increasingly frequent topic of debate. Elected officials and policy makers of both parties should know that Americans are united in asking current and potential Governors and state legislators to make free college a spending priority.
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.