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Finding Five: Who Should Pay?

The public is opposed to policy proposals that limit access to higher education or raise the amount families will have to pay, but has not come to a consensus on how society should pay for access to higher education.

We presented a number of proposals having to do with access to higher education and college financing. Nearly all ideas that increase access to higher education are supported by the public. At the same time, the public is opposed to ideas that limit the number of people who can attend a college or university.

Support for Ideas That Increase Access; Opposition to Ideas That Limit It


Suppose it became more difficult for colleges and universities to admit everyone who was qualified. Strongly/somewhat favor proposal for dealing with this problem:
  Offer classes in evening and weekend. 94%
  Encourage students to take college-level classes in high school. 88
  Teach classes over cable TV or on the Internet. 66
  Build new public colleges. 63
  Provide state money to help students attend private schools. 48
  Accept a smaller percentage of those who apply. 32

When it comes to asking who is to pay for these proposals, the picture becomes much more complex. We asked our respondents who should make sacrifices if colleges and universities find it more difficult to admit everyone who is qualified. There was universal agreement that students and their families are already doing everything they can and should not be asked to do more. As far as increasing the burden on students and their families is concerned, the public seems to be saying, "Enough is enough." As an Indianapolis, Indiana, woman said: "The way I hear it, for the past 10 or 15 years the colleges have been raising their rates faster than inflation. It is hard for me to believe that they have to raise their rates even more."

But the public is much less clear about who should pick up the slack. Americans are evenly divided as to whether colleges and universities should do more or whether taxpayers should take on a greater part of the burden. There is no consensus at all in either of these areas, suggesting that this is an area that will require greater debate and dialogue in the future.

We have found the same pattern in other areas, such as health care and social security, namely that the public agrees on the importance of the service before they reach consensus on how to pay for it.6
Paying for Access to Higher Education


Suppose it became more difficult for colleges and universities in your state to admit everyone who is qualified. To deal with the increase in students who apply for college would mean that some changes and even some sacrifices would have to be made. I'm going to mention several groups and ask if you think they should do more to help solve the problem or if they are doing pretty much all they can already.
  Students and their families by paying higher fees. 11%
  They are doing pretty much all they can already. 85%
  Faculty and administrators at colleges and universities by teaching more classes and cutting costs. 44
  They are doing pretty much all they can already. 49
  Taxpayers and state government by devoting more tax dollars to solving this problem. 46
  They are doing pretty much all they can already. 49


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