Photographer: Matthew Borkoski Photography/Getty Images

Majority of Americans Want College to Be Free

But they don’t want to pay more in federal taxes to fund it.

Few things are as universally beloved as getting something for nothing. Everyone supports free samples at the grocery store, soda refills, and, perhaps one day soon, college tuition. 

Once an idealistic pipe dream of the far left, free higher education is now largely supported by a majority of Americans. Sixty-two percent say they support debt-free university tuition, according to a July survey of 1,000 American adults conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for consumer financial company Bankrate Inc. Among those who are opposed to the initiative, 26 percent said they would support making college debt free for students coming from families that earn less than $50,000 annually. Another 5 percent are willing allow it for those whose families earn less than $85,000 a year. 

But when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, Americans are more reluctant. Among those surveyed, 48 percent they would not be willing to pay more in federal taxes to fund free college. 

Chart: Americans Aren't Gung-ho About Student Debt Forgiveness

Making college tuition free is most heavily supported by those in the millennial generation, the survey found. This is unsurprising, given that millennials face a staggering amount of student loan debt. Undergraduate borrowers who finished college in 2014 are burdened with an average $28,950 in loans, and the delinquency rate on such loans is increasing. A July survey by the Federal Reserve found 29.2 percent of those polled did not attend college because it was too expensive. Among those who started their degree, 28 percent said they could not complete it because of the cost. 

While 79 percent of millennials support free college, only 64 percent of Gen Xers and 49 percent of boomers feel similarly. Support is also split along political lines. Democrats overwhelmingly support the idea, while just 33 percent of Republicans are in favor. 

Debt forgiveness is not as attractive as free college, the survey found. About a third of those surveyed said student loans should be forgiven after the debtor makes payments for 10 years, but 40 percent said the loan should never be forgiven. So while the future might be student loan-free, Americans don't expect to cut a break for those who are already laden with debt. 

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