More than half of young adults, many of them in the traditional college age range, support plans to make public universities free, even if it costs billions of dollars, according to new data from Harvard University.
The Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School has released an annual poll -- notable in that it’s created by undergraduates -- for two decades. The poll asks about many of the issues du jour, and the students with the institute this year included questions about free college plans, which have come under new scrutiny as candidates for the 2020 presidential election ramp up their campaigns.
The students polled more than 3,000 people ages 18 to 29. About 51 percent of those who answered the poll said they to some degree supported free college.
Proposals for tuition-free college can vary. In their question, the students posed making community college free and four-year institutions free for all families who earn $125,000 and under a year. Even with the $47 billion price tag the students estimated for the plan, more than half still agreed. An earlier version of the poll had asked about free college without a cost estimate and support only dropped by five percentage points, from 56 to 51 percent.
About 29 percent of respondents said they didn’t support free college. The remainder of the poll takers either were unsure or declined to answer the question. Unsurprisingly, adults who identified as Democrats were more supportive of a prospective free-college plan than were their conservative counterparts. About 65 percent of Democrats backed free college versus 32 percent of Republicans.
In a statement, Mark D. Gearan, the institute’s director, noted how influential a role students played in policy making and the just-past midterm election.
“This presidential election serves as a consequential moment in time to shape how young Americans engage in politics, and I hope candidates thoughtfully listen and engage with their agenda,” Gearan said in his statement.
A new poll from Quinnipiac University found that voters (across age groups) were mixed about free college -- about 52 percent were against plans, and 45 percent were in favor of them.
The Harvard poll posed other higher education-related questions, too.
Roughly 53 percent of respondents said they trusted their college or university administrators all or most of the time. Other research has shown a declining confidence in higher education, particularly among conservatives, however, the Harvard poll revealed little difference depending on party. About 59 percent of Democrats reported they trust college officials, compared to 55 percent of Republicans.
Only 7 percent of the poll takers said they never trust their college administrators.
Confidence in elected officials was particularly low -- 19 percent of young adults said they trusted Congress all or most of the time, and only 23 percent trusted the president. About 21 percent reported trusting the federal government. Trust with media was also mixed -- 14 percent said they trusted news all or most of the time, but 47 percent said they trusted it sometimes.
The respondents on the ease of securing a job after graduating college were split.
About 55 percent of the adults said it was difficult to find a job, and 42 percent found it easy. Three percent did not answer the question.
Differences did emerge with party affiliation for this question -- 65 percent of Democrats said it was hard to get a job compared to 33 percent of Republicans. And 66 percent of Republicans reported they thought it was easy to find a job versus 35 percent of Democrats.
Women also reported they found it harder than men to find a job -- 60 percent of women indicated that they thought it was difficult and 48 percent of men did.