APM Research Lab, APM Reports’ Educate, Hechinger Report gauge national opinion on government funding, assistance for colleges

Most Americans aren’t aware of decreased government funding for public colleges and universities within the past decade.

ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 26, 2019 – The APM Research Lab has released the findings for a survey which asked Americans about their awareness of public college and university funding, as well as the price tag to attend these institutions.

Created from a collaboration between the APM Research Lab, APM Reports’ Educate podcast, and The Hechinger Report, the survey asked participants’ opinion on the cost of four-year college, their awareness of government funding for public colleges, and whether they support free tuition to public colleges for those qualified to attend.

Despite decreased government funding for public colleges and universities and rising tuition over the past decade, the survey reveals that a majority of adults don’t realize government investment in colleges has gone down. Overall, those who had completed a bachelor’s degree, Democrats, and those with annual household incomes of at least $75,000 were the only groups where at least one-third of respondents knew that government funding has generally declined over the past 10 years.

“Given the importance of higher education as a public policy issue, it is concerning how few Americans know some of the basics,” said Craig Helmstetter, managing partner at APM Research Lab. “Less than half know that government grants and loans have fallen behind the cost of tuition, and less than one-third know that that governmental funding for public institutions has generally decreased over the past decade.”

Additional key findings include:

  • While 34 percent of U.S. adults think government funding for public colleges and universities has stayed the same, 27 percent think it has increased. At the same time, 44 percent of U.S. adults think government aid for college and universities has fallen behind the price of tuition.
  • Half or more of the following groups knew that aid has fallen behind the price of tuition: those with at least a bachelor’s degree, those with annual household incomes of at least $75,000, those who identified as non-Hispanic Black, and Democrats.
  • Americans are more likely to support than oppose free tuition for public universities and colleges for qualified applicants. Nearly three-quarters support the idea, while only one-quarter are opposed.
  • Overall, the majority of Americans feel the cost of college is worth the investment, with 58 percent feeling this way, while 36 percent say the cost is not worth it.

The APM Research Lab is a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative, committed to open and transparent reporting of survey methods and findings. Authored by Craig Helmstetter and researcher Kassira Absar of the APM Research Lab, this survey was funded through internal resources and was not conducted on behalf of or in conjunction with any other entity or initiative.

The nationally representative survey was conducted via telephone, 60 percent via cell phone and 40 percent landline, with 1,003 adult Americans, between Nov. 27 and Dec. 2, 2018. The survey’s overall margin of error is +/-3.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Additional details about survey methodology can be found here.

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Source: Data are copyright Nielsen Audio. Data are estimates only.

About the APM Research Lab
The APM Research Lab is a division of American Public Media aimed at informing the public by producing credible research- and analysis- based content. The Research Lab conducts research projects of all types — surveys, demographic analyses, literature reviews, and more — and informs the work of partner organizations and the broader public through traditional reports, as well as infographics, blog posts, interactives, presentations, and other platforms. For more information, visit apmresearchlab.org

About APM Reports
APM Reports, formed in November 2015, is a collection of investigative journalists and documentary producers, editors, data reporters, researchers and digital producers dedicated to producing high-quality reporting on issues that are often hidden from public view. At the heart of every APM Reports investigation lies a critical question — about powerful institutions and people, injustice and accountability – that deserves an unflinching commitment to finding answers in the public’s best interest. Visit apmreports.org for more.