POLL: Support for 'free college' plans has plummeted

A new poll by Education Next shows that the concept of free college is far less popular now than it was two years ago.

The poll shows that 1 in 5 Republicans supports making 4-year public colleges free to attend.

A new poll shows that support for “free college” proposals has dropped sharply among American adults since 2019. Though free community college remains more popular than free public four-year college, support for both has fallen since before the coronavirus pandemic. 

In 2019, 60 percent of the general public supported free "public four-year college.” This year, support has dropped 17 points, down to 43 percent. Over that same time frame, support for free "public two-year college” has dropped 9 points but remains high at 60 percent, down from 69 percent. 

These results come as part of the Education Next survey of more than 1,400 American adults. Participants answered questions about their opinions on education policy, the quality of their local schools and colleges, and more. 

[RELATED: First Lady Jill Biden promises free community college]

Opinions about free college proposals were largely split along party lines in this year’s polling data. Among Republicans, 36 percent said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” making 2-year public colleges free to attend, compared to 80 percent of Democrats. Both groups were significantly less supportive of making public 4-year colleges free to attend. 63 percent of Democrats supported the idea, compared to only 20 percent of Republicans. The survey did not ask about potentially making private colleges free to attend, nor did it ask about forgiving student loan debt. 

College graduates were less likely than their non-college peers to say they either “strongly” or “somewhat support” making 4-year public colleges free to attend. Among college graduates, 39 percent came down in favor of the idea, compared to 45 percent of respondents who did not graduate college. Support for free community college was nearly the same among both groups, at 61 percent for those who graduated college and 60 percent for those who did not. 

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Ted Cruz explains how 'people get screwed' when 'party of Santa Claus' gives out 'free stuff' like college]

The poll found that people vastly underestimate how much is spent on education at the K-12 level. Survey respondents estimated that their school districts spend $8,719 to educate one student for one year. In reality, the average per-pupil expenditure in respondents’ districts is $15,092. 

When one group of participants were told how much their district spends on each student each year, support for increased government spending on schools was 40 percent. However, when a separate group of people was not told how much their district spends on each student each year, support for increased government spending on schools was 58% percent. 

Campus Reform has reported that First Lady Dr. Jill Biden promised free community college while speaking to a group of community college leaders last spring. President Biden pushed free community college in his first joint address to Congress.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito