Public Agenda Finds Public Support for Free Public College

on November 7, 2016

Public Agenda has issued a report, What’s the Payoff? Americans Consider Problems and Promises of Higher Education, based on two national surveys of American adults in July and August 2016.

Key findings include:

  • Only 42 percent of Americans say that a college degree is necessary, compared with 55 percent in 2009.
  • Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say that it is absolutely essential for college students to gain the skills they need to get a job when they graduate.
  • 44percent of Americans say that wasteful and inefficient spending by colleges is a serious problem, compared with 43 percent identifying cuts in state government funding of public education.
  • Concern about cuts in state funding divide along party lines, with 79 percent of Democrats, 68percent of Independents and 57 percent of Republicans identifying it as a problem.
  • Other “serious problems” included high schools that fail to prepare students for college (56 percent), college students that lack the discipline and persistence to finish their degrees (29 percent) and employers demanding college degrees for jobs that don’t require them (29 percent)
  • More than half (59 percent) of Americans say that colleges are businesses and care most about the bottom line.
  • About two-thirds of Americans support making public colleges free for low-and middle-income families. However, the support divides along party lines, with 86 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Independents and 34 percent of Republicans supporting free public college education. 

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