What do voters think about higher ed?

Republicans, Democrats, and Independents strongly support allowing borrowers to refinance their student loans

American voters value higher education but have very different views across party lines about financing college, according to a recent survey commissioned by New America

Among the 800 likely voters polled, 82% said education beyond high school is necessary for getting a good job, but 85% also believe that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford higher education.

Around 70% of likely voters approve of a plan that would allow students to attend public four-year institutions without going into debt, but levels of support vary greatly by party: 86% of Democrats support a debt-free model, compared with 69% of Independents and 52% of Republicans.

Roughly 74% of likely voters also support a debt-free model that hinges on certain requirements for students, such as maintaining a 2.5 GPA and taking part in a volunteer or work study program. That model is more popular than the proposal to reserve debt-free college for families with household incomes of no more than $125,000 annually, favored by 64% of likely voters.

Respondents across party lines disagree about whether students should not have to pay tuition or take out loans to finance public higher education. Forty-two percent of all voters said families should not have to pay tuition and 52% said families should not have to take out loans. Most Democrats agree, while fewer than half of Republicans concur. Among Independents, 39% believe that families shouldn't pay tuition and about half agree that families should not have to take out loans.

People of different political affiliations also disagree about whether the government can currently afford to finance no-cost tuition at public colleges for all students. Sixty-eight percent agree that the cost would be too great. Among political parties, 86% of Republicans say the government can't afford to pay for free college, compared with 69% of Independents and 54% of Democrats.

But there's one policy that likely voters of all political backgrounds greatly support: allowing borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower rates. Ninety-four percent of Democrats approve of the policy, compared with 92% of Independents and 85% of Republicans (Fishman/Ekowo, New America, 10/7; Berman, MarketWatch, 10/8). 

Tuition-free college: Ground-breaking experiments in affordability at the state and federal level


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