The cost of college tuition has risen dramatically in the past 10 years, in part because government funding for colleges has declined by billions of dollars. But a survey from the APM Research Lab shows that the majority of adults don't realize government investment in colleges has gone down.
Since the 2008 recession, states have cut their investment in higher education. Adjusted for inflation, collective state funding has decreased by $9 billion in the last decade, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank. But the survey from APM Research Lab found that 27 percent of American adults thought government spending for colleges had increased and 34 percent thought it had remained steady.
"This is a fascinating phenomenon," says Jon Marcus, higher education editor at The Hechinger Report. He says most people blame colleges and universities for increased tuition.
"They tend not to blame the governor or the legislature," he says. "And that's come home to roost in these survey findings because people aren't aware that what's been going on, and helping to drive tuition up, is the cuts in state funding."
As a result of decreased funding, tuition now accounts for a greater portion of a university's operating costs. A decade ago, tuition would have covered one-third of those costs; now it accounts for nearly half, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
The APM Research Lab survey also found that nearly 75 percent of Americans think free college for anyone who applies and is accepted is a good idea, though politics plays a part.
"When you break the data down by political party you see a huge divide," says Kassira Absar, a researcher who worked on the survey. "Ninety percent of Democrats say they do support free tuition, as opposed to 47 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of independents."
She adds that the age of respondents had a great bearing on feelings about free tuition as well.
"As age decreases, support for free tuition increases," Absar says.
According to the survey, among adults 65 and older, 57 percent support the idea of free tuition. Among young adults — aged 18 to 34 — 80 percent support free tuition.
Tyler Duffield is 21 years old and studies environmental engineering at his local community college in Buncombe County, North Carolina. He responded to the survey and was surprised to hear that government funding for higher education has declined dramatically during the last decade.
"It's hard to imagine that our government, at any level, would actually cut funding for something as important as education," he says. "We're all worth it. Investing in ourselves and investing in our future is, and always will be, worth it."