Nearly two-thirds of Americans are in favor of free college tuition for students. According to a new survey conducted by Bankrate.com, 62 percent think tuition at public colleges and universities should be free for all students. About three-quarters think at least some people should be eligible for free college. About a quarter of those opposed to making college free for everyone believe that families with incomes below $50,000 should not be charged tuition for college. The survey polled nearly 5,000 adults.
Many graduating college in recent years have entered adulthood with an average of nearly $30,000 in debt. This debt prevents them from doing many of the things adults are expected to do, like forming new households, buying homes, and having kids. With this new normal, it is no surprise that roughly 77 percent of millennials under the age of 30 backed free college for all in Bankrate’s survey.
College education and earnings potential have become more tightly linked than in previous generations. Today, a college education is needed for what a high school diploma used to achieve in terms of job eligibility. College, and the ability to afford it, is emphasizing the differences between the haves and have-nots in the United States.
The current labor market is tailored to the better educated. More than 95 percent of the jobs gained after the recession have gone to people with at least some college education. The recovery has been dominated by technical and professional jobs. Well-paying blue-collar jobs in fields like construction and manufacturing, which could be obtained with just a high school diploma, are increasingly hard to find.
The blue-collar jobs that remain are mainly in the service industry, where wages are much lower. Inflation-adjusted wages for the lowest-paying jobs fell by nearly 6 percent in the five years after the end of the recession, according to a National Employment Law Project study conducted last year.
Free college has support across party lines. More than 80 percent of Democrats support free college for all, along with a third of those who identify as Republican. For Independents, 67 percent were in favor. Respondents to the Bankrate survey were almost evenly split on whether they would be willing to pay more in federal taxes to make college education universal.
Lawmakers in both political parties are searching for ways to make college more affordable. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton recently announced a detailed plan to address tuition costs including a household income cap of $85,000 that increases to $125,000 in the future. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders had free college tuition as a central plank of his primary platform. Republican nominee Donald Trump has not explicitly stated his stance on education, but Tennessee’s Republican governor Bill Haslam recently launched a free community college program in his state.