Survey | Education

APM Survey: Americans’ views on government funding and aid for public colleges and universities

 

Feb. 25, 2019

The APM Research Lab, in collaboration with APM Reports’ Educate team and The Hechinger Report, conducted a survey to see what Americans believe about government funding and aid for public colleges and universities. The nationally representative survey of 1,003 American adults (18+) was conducted between November 27-December 2, 2018.

Survey respondents were asked two questions:

  1. Over the last 10 years, do you think that government funding for public colleges and universities has generally increased, decreased, or stayed the same?

  2. Over the past 10 years, do you think that publicly-funded grants and loans for students attending colleges and universities has generally kept up with the price of tuition?

The findings reveal that Americans, broadly speaking, do not fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the higher education funding and aid landscape during the past decade. Furthermore, there are salient differences in Americans’ beliefs about the public dollars fueling higher education—and who has access to it—based upon age, race, income, political affiliation, and other characteristics.


 

Understanding the funding and aid landscape

Government funding for public universities has dramatically decreased. In real terms, states have collectively scaled back their annual higher education funding by $7 billion during the past decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Meanwhile government-funded grants and loans have not kept pace with increases in the price of tuition over the past 10 years.

However, according to our survey findings, 34% of U.S. adults think government funding for public colleges and universities has stayed the same over the past decade, while 27% think it has increased. At the same time, 44% of U.S. adults think government aid for college and universities has fallen behind the price of tuition.


 

Who thinks government funding has increased, decreased, and stayed the same for public colleges and universities?

Overall, Democrats, those who had completed a bachelor’s degree, and those with annual household incomes of at least $75,000 are the only groups where at least one-third of respondents knew that government funding has generally declined over the past ten years.

Several other differences emerged from the analysis. Men are more likely than women to think government funding increased over the past 10 years (31% and 24%, respectively).

By age, 32 percent of U.S. residents who are at least 65 years old think funding has increased, compared with only 22 percent among those age 45 to 54.

Regionally, 1 in 3 residents in the West think funding has increased, compared to just over 1 in 5 in the North East.

Americans with a household income between $50,000 and $75,000 are more likely than those with a household income between $25,000 and under $50,000 to think government funding has increased (37% and 25%, respectively). Forty-three percent of those with a household income of less than $25,000 think government funding for public colleges and universities has stayed about the same, compared to only 31 percent for those with a household income of at least $75,000. Adults with a household income of less than $25,000 are twice more likely than those with a household income of least $75,000 to say they “don’t know” in response to this question (14% and 6%, respectively).

By educational attainment, one-quarter of Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree think government funding of public colleges and universities has risen, while the share of Americans who think this increases to one-third for those with some college education or an associate’s degree.

By political affiliation, just over one-third of Republicans think government funding for public colleges and universities has increased over the past 10 years, compared to about one-quarter of Democrats and Independents.

Explore responses by political party and other characteristics in the data visualization below.


 

Who thinks government aid has fallen behind, kept up with, or increased with the price of tuition?

Half or more of the following groups offered the correct response, that aid has fallen behind the price of tuition, to the question about trends in government grants and loans for college students: 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.

Around 1 in 4 U.S. residents under the age of 45 and between the age of 55 and 64 think government aid has kept up with the price of tuition, compared to 1 in 7 of those of traditional retirement age (age 65 or older). Younger adults (age 18-34) and Americans at least 65 years old are more likely than those age 35 to 44 to think government-funded grants and loans has surpassed the price of tuition over the last 10 years (about 1 in 4 and 1 in 10, respectively).

Regionally, 48 percent of Americans residing in the North Central part of the country think the price of tuition has outpaced government aid, compared to 36% of residents in the West.

By educational attainment, the data show that residents with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to think government-funded grants and loans have fallen behind the price of tuition compared to those with less education (54% and about 39%, respectively). Twenty-three percent of those who have a high school degree or less education think government aid for colleges and universities has increased faster than the price of tuition compared to 16 percent of those with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Americans with a household income of at least $25,000 are more likely to think government-funded grants and loans have fallen behind the price of tuition over the last decade than those with a household income below $25,000 (45-52% and 26%, respectively). Additionally, adults with a household income below $25,000 are the most likely to say they “don’t know” in response to this question compared to those with a higher annual household income.

Interestingly, about half of White non-Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic adults think government-funded aid has fallen behind the price of tuition, compared to just 28 percent of the Latinx population. Conversely, 1 in 3 U.S. residents who identify as Hispanic also think government aid has increased more quickly than the price of tuition compared to just 17 percent of White non-Hispanics. 

By political affiliation, the data reveal that a full half of Democrats think government-funded loans and grants for students attending public colleges and universities have fallen behind the price of tuition over the last 10 years, compared to 37 percent of Republicans. Republicans are also more likely than Independents to think government aid has kept up with the price of tuition (31% and 20%, respectively).

Part-time workers (22%), full-time workers (26%), and homemakers (31%) are more likely than retirees (13%) to think government aid has kept up with the price of tuition over the last ten years. Part-time workers, full-time workers, and retirees are about twice as likely as homemakers to think government aid has fallen behind the cost of tuition over the last ten years. Explore responses by employment status and other characteristics in the viz below.