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Reading room at UC Berkeley's Doe Library

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Most Californians are worried about the cost of public higher education in California and are concerned about gaining admission to state universities and the likelihood of graduating in four years, a new survey finds. Seven out of 10 support free community college.

Affordability of public higher education is “a big problem” for 57 percent of the state residents who participated in the survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). An additional 28 percent said the costs of tuition are “something” of a problem.

The survey results were released Thursday – at a time when the governing boards of both the University of California and the California State University system are considering whether to raise tuition in 2017-18 for the first time in six years.  The prospect of such hikes already have triggered student protests.

A large majority in the survey – 73 percent of adults and 62 percent of likely voters – said they would favor increased government funding to make community college education free in California, and even larger majorities support more funds for extra grants for students to attend UC and CSU.

“With many Californians saying that affordability is the most important problem facing public higher education, there is overwhelming support for free community college and for expanding student scholarships,” Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, said in a statement. PPIC is a San Francisco-based, nonpartisan research group and think tank.

The survey did not specifically probe about ways for the state to afford providing free community college tuition, but support for the general idea declined as household income rose: 84 percent of poll participants in households with annual incomes less than $40,000 want free tuition at community colleges compared with 57 percent among households earning more than $80,000.

The survey also showed that there are problems ahead for policymakers in trying to gain public agreement on how to pay for any increases in state funding for higher education. There is strong support – 60 percent of likely voters – for a bond issue to pay for new construction on campuses. But only 48 percent of likely voters surveyed supported higher taxes to bolster ongoing funding for state colleges and universities, and only 21 percent of them were in favor of higher student tuition and fees to do so.

The good news for higher education is that, according to the survey, Californians regard state colleges and universities highly. About two-thirds of poll participants ranked community colleges, CSU and UC as either excellent or good. However, a large majority – 76 percent – said they were concerned about how difficult it was for state high school students to gain admission to a UC campus, and more than a majority said they were worried about the difficulty CSU students face in trying to graduate in four years. About half said they were concerned about the chances of community college students to transfer to four-year universities and earn a bachelor’s degree.

The PPIC survey included 1,711 state residents, who were reached by either landline telephone or cell phone during the third week of November. The margin of error was reported to be plus or minus 3.5 percent.


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  1. M. Kellogg 6 years ago6 years ago

    What do you think are the short term and long term implications of free community college tuition? If California can afford it, for how long?