Majority of Americans Support Free Community College

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Majority of Americans Support Free Community College

July 1, 2021

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Nearly 20 states in the U.S. currently offer free community college tuition. As President Biden pushes for free community college nationwide, we asked Americans to weigh in. In a new BestColleges survey of 2,613 Americans across the country, 69% of respondents were in favor of free community college for either all or most first-time college students.

Despite their support for tuition-free college, 37% of these respondents still believe that students should have to qualify for free tuition under specific requirements, such as a specified minimum GPA upon graduation (13%), being below a certain income threshold (15%), or both (9%).

Younger generations, like generation Z (18-24 years old) and millennials (25-40 years old) were also nearly twice as likely as baby boomers (57-75 years old) and the silent generation (76+ years old) to be in favor of free community college for all (41% vs. 23%). Still, support for some form of nationwide tuition-free community college was present across all age groups (86% Gen Z, 75% Millennials, 67% Gen X, 61% Boomers, 50% Silent).

How Americans Define Free College

According to Biden's American Families Plan, $109 billion allocated toward free community college would cover two years of full tuition for first-time students. Based on that plan, if all states, territories, and tribes participate, approximately 5.5 million students would pay $0 in tuition and fees.

Many Americans believe offering free tuition is just a start, and that other costs associated with college should also be covered. Funds from the plan would not cover books, room and board, transportation, or some other fees that many community college students, particularly low-income students, often struggle with.

In addition to supporting free tuition, survey respondents were most commonly in favor of the government also covering costs for textbooks and learning materials, school fees, and technology for first-time students.

There were differences in opinion among racial and ethnic groups and generations about what, if any, additional funds should be offered to students.

Black respondents were most likely to be in favor of the government providing financial assistance for school fees (54%) and textbooks/learning materials (62%) compared to respondents of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Latino/a respondents were least likely to support assistance for school fees (39%) and textbooks/learning materials (47%).

Black respondents were more than twice as likely as white respondents to support the government providing funds to be used at students' discretion (27% vs. 11%). About a third (34%) of white respondents reported that the government should not provide any financial assistance, tuition or otherwise, to community college students. Twenty-two percent of Latino/a respondents agreed, and only 9% of Black respondents felt similarly.

While roughly the same percentage of respondents across all age groups were equally in favor of the government providing students with financial assistance for textbooks and other learning materials (50% among those 18-34, 51% among those 35+), younger generations (generation Z and millennials) were almost three times as likely than older generations (baby boomers and the silent generation) to support additional financial assistance through funds to be used at students' discretion (23% vs. 8%).

Americans Connect to Community College Through Friends and Family

A majority of Americans’ connection to community college comes through their family and friends. Almost two-thirds (65%) of Americans reported having family or friends who have attended, transferred from, or graduated from a community college. Just over one-third (35%) of Americans had attended, transferred from, or graduated from one themselves, and 34% of respondents reported having a community college in their local area.

Latino/a (45%) and Black (44%) respondents were more likely to report having no connection to community college education than white respondents (38%) and respondents of other racial/ethnic backgrounds (29%). Black (25%) and Latino/a (21%) respondents were also less likely to report a community college in their local area than white respondents (39%).

Americans were also generally unaware of existing tuition-free community college programs offered in some states. Just over one third (36%) of respondents reported knowledge of these programs.

Americans Believe in the Value of a Community College Education

Though Americans have varying views on how costs for community college should be covered, they mostly align on the value of a community college education. Fifty-eight percent of respondents agree that a community college education helps graduates acquire skills applicable in today's workforce, and 55% agree that a community college education increases graduates' lifetime earning potential.

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Americans are slightly less confident about employers valuing community college education. Less than half of respondents (44%) agree that their employers or other employers in their area value a community college education.

There were also generational differences in opinion on the value of this type of education. Older baby boomers aged 67-75 — who may be retired and less connected to today's workforce demands — were most likely to agree that a community college education helps graduates obtain skills applicable to today's workforce (41%).

In addition to believing in the value of a community college education, Americans also believe that funding community college can lead to more graduates and open up academic opportunities to more individuals. The majority of respondents (58%) agree that government support for first-time community college students will give more people access to education beyond high school and 44% believe it will result in fewer dropouts.


Methodology

BestColleges.com commissioned YouGov PLC to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. The total sample size was 2,613 adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all U.S. adults (aged 18+). Fieldwork was undertaken on June 8-10, 2021. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards.


Feature Image: Glow Images / Getty Images

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