- More than three out of every four U.S. adults, 77%, say it would be difficult for someone like them to pay for a college education, according to new polling from research firm Morning Consult.
- Women were more likely than men to call a college education unaffordable, 82% vs. 73%. The survey found 80% of Black respondents, 78% of Hispanic respondents, and 77% of White respondents said college would be difficult to afford.
- Community colleges and two-year colleges were viewed as the most affordable option — 65% of respondents said they considered them affordable. That was ahead of vocational and professional certificate programs, which 57% of respondents viewed as affordable.
The new polling adds data points about a long-standing concern for college leaders: whether the public views higher education as affordable and worthwhile. That question has been even more important since President Joe Biden announced a wide-ranging federal student loan relief plan Aug. 24. The forgiveness plan ignited still-unfolding legal battles and public debate about who should pay what for students' college education and who benefits from it.
The Morning Consult polling took place Aug. 27-28, just after Biden announced his debt forgiveness plan. It includes a sample of 4,420 adults interviewed online and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.
Almost two-thirds of respondents, 64%, said they never had student loan debt. One in five said they took out student loans but paid them off, while 16% said they currently had student loan debt.
Among those with current debt, 11% said they owed under $5,000, and 16% said they owed between $5,000 and $10,000. A quarter said they owed $10,000 to $25,000, about another quarter reported owing $25,000 to $50,000, and the remaining 24% said they owed more.
Pollsters also asked whether taking out student loans was worth it to attend college, based on borrowers' current financial situation. More than half, 56%, said it was, while 37% said it was not. The remaining 6% said they didn't know.
Community colleges and vocational or professional programs were the only types of higher education viewed as affordable by more than half of respondents. Just 35% said undergraduate education at in-state public universities is affordable, compared to 20% who said the same about undergraduate education at out-of-state public universities.
Only 18% said private nonprofit undergraduate education is affordable. That was still ahead of private for-profit institutions, viewed as affordable by just 13% of respondents.
But 53% of adults said an undergraduate education at an in-state public university is a good value — that is, the outcome is worth the price. For out-of-state public institutions, 41% said the same.
A similar share, 40%, called private nonprofit universities a good value, compared with 33% for a private for-profit undergraduate education.
Still, community colleges and vocational and professional programs outpaced all of the other options when it came to value. Some 65% of respondents called community or two-year colleges a good value, and 66% said the same about vocational and professional programs.