Voters across California worry about affording college, but the fear is more pressing for those in rural areas.
That’s the conclusion of a report released Monday by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) which shows that voters in certain counties — typically those in rural areas and places close to the borders with Nevada and Oregon — are more likely to have greater concerns about college affordability than voters in other parts of the state.
The report is based on an analysis of a February PACE/Rossier School poll that found college affordability was the second most important education-related issue among voters, trailing only gun violence in schools. The poll surveyed 2,000 registered voters in California with an estimated margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
The report shows that low-income voters are more likely than high-income voters to be concerned about college costs and that, in some counties, concerns vary along racial and ethnic lines.
“There is clear variability by geography,” the report states.
Voters in some of the state’s northernmost stretches, including Siskiyou and Trinity counties, as well as in several eastern counties — such as Sierra, Mono and Madera — have higher concerns about college affordability than voters in any other regions.
The report found that, on a scale of one to 10, on average voters in each of those counties rated concerns about college affordability as a 10, compared to the statewide mean of 8.43.
Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, an associate professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and the lead author of the brief, said the report’s analysis offers a more in-depth look than the February poll of how views on on college affordability vary across the state.
“For me, this was a great opportunity to really understand our state and its needs in more nuanced ways,” Rios-Aguilar said.
The brief’s authors say lawmakers should consider expanding financial aid programs to parts of California where concerns about college affordability are higher. In addition, they should look into how existing financial aid programs are being implemented and consider expanding financial aid to cover non-tuition costs of attending college.
Almost two-thirds of voters with incomes less than $35,000 rated their concern about college costs as a 10. Fewer than half of voters in each of the other income brackets responded that way.
However, those results also varied by location. In Riverside County, for example, there was little variation in concern over college affordability between low-income and high-income individuals. In San Diego County, there was a greater disparity between respondents with incomes less than $35,000 and those with incomes above $150,000.
Across California, concerns about college costs do not vary significantly by race or ethnicity. But researchers did find variations within certain counties. For example, black voters in Los Angeles County and Asian voters in Orange County had greater concerns about college affordability than other voters in those counties.
Rios-Aguilar said the state may may need to consider expanding California College Promise programs, which offer financial assistance to students in need who live in the geographic area where the individual programs operate. “There’s a concentration of these College Promise programs in Southern California, when there may be more of a need to replicate them in other parts of the state where college affordability concerns are higher,” she said.
The researchers also said lawmakers should consider expanding financial aid to cover costs other than tuition, such as housing, transportation and food.