Americans Divided on Obama’s Community College Proposal

Earlier this month President Obama outlined a proposal to offer students two years of free community college tuition.  The President enters the discussion about college affordability with a sizable advantage over Republicans.  According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll*, 61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans believe that Obama has the better ideas to help more students afford college.  His 39-point edge over Republicans on this issue is his biggest advantage across the six items tested.

“Who do you think has the better ideas about [ITEM] – Obama or the Republicans in Congress?”

Better Ideas Table
In fact, even roughly one-in-three (29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) Republicans agree that President Obama has better ideas on college affordability.

“Helping More Students Afford College” – By Party

Afford College by Party

However, this broad generic advantage on the issue of college affordability fails to translate into overwhelming support for President Obama’s proposal.  The same ABC News/Washington Post survey found that just over half of Americans (53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) support the proposal, while 44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose it.  In terms of intensity, roughly the same number of adults are on both sides of the issue (38{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} strongly support, 33{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} strongly oppose).

“Obama has proposed providing free tuition to attend community colleges at a cost to the federal government of sixty billion dollars over 10 years.  Do you support or oppose this proposal?”

Support-Oppose Tuition Plan

A closer look at some of the demographic differences on this issue:

  • Support is predictably lower among Republicans (23{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} support). Majorities of Independents (54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) and Democrats (76{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) support the plan.
  •  There is a significant divide based on ethnicity, with support twice as high among non-White adults (79{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than it is among White respondents (40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).
  •  Younger Americans are more positive toward the President’s proposal (65{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} support). Support dips to 44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among seniors.
  •  By educational attainment, Americans with post-graduate degrees are most supportive (57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).

Sub-Group Support-Oppose
While two-thirds of Americans say the President has better ideas on college affordability, there remains a significant divide over his community college proposal.


* N=1,003 adults nationally conducted January 12-15, 2015, via telephone.

Public Opinion Strategies