Americans generally support making tuition free at public colleges and universities for all U.S. students. Pictured are students at Long Beach State University in California in 2017.
Americans generally support making tuition free at public colleges and universities for all U.S. students. Above, students at Long Beach State University in California in 2017. (Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)
A bar chart showing that there is broad support for tuition-free college among women, young people, and Black and Hispanic adults

American adults generally support making tuition free at public colleges and universities for all U.S. students, yet there are sizable partisan and demographic differences in views of tuition-free college.

Republicans, in particular, are divided by age and educational attainment in opinions on this issue, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted July 8-18, 2021.

Among all U.S. adults, 63% favor making tuition at public colleges free, including 34% who strongly favor the proposal. Slightly more than a third oppose tuition-free college (36%), with 20% strongly opposed. These views are little changed over the past year.

Large shares of Black (86%), Hispanic (82%) and Asian American (69%) adults favor making college free for all Americans, compared with 53% of White adults. And while 73% of adults under age 30 favor this proposal, only about half (51%) of those ages 65 and older support it.

For this analysis on views of tuition-free college, we surveyed 10,221 U.S. adults from July 8-18, 2021. Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology. 

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

A bar chart showing that among Republicans, there are age and educational differences in support for tuition-free college

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly favor making college tuition free for all American students (85% support this). While 63% of Republicans and Republican leaners oppose making college tuition-free, 36% support this.

There are significant differences in these views among Republicans and GOP leaners: Those under age 30 are nearly twice as likely as those 65 and older to support making college tuition free for all Americans (45% vs. 23%).

And while Republicans who have completed college mostly oppose making tuition free for all American students, the proposal draws more support from Republicans who do not have a four-year degree.

A bar chart showing that younger, non-college Republicans are the most supportive of free college tuition

The differences among Republicans are particularly stark when combining age and educational attainment. Among Republicans under age 50 who have not completed college, 52% favor making college tuition free for all Americans. Among Republican college graduates in this age group, only 30% support this.

Support for tuition-free college declines among older Republicans, regardless of whether or not they have completed college. However, even among Republicans ages 50 and older, those who have not completed college are more supportive of this proposal than those who have a college degree.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published Feb. 21, 2020. Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Hannah Hartig  is a research associate focusing on U.S. politics and policy research at Pew Research Center.