• Joanne Jacobs

Free college? Voters aren’t sold


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“Free college” won’t be a political winner for Democrats, writes Edward-Isaac Dovere in Politico.

The call for free college tuition fosters both resentment at ivory tower elitism and regret from people who have degrees but are now buried under debt. Many voters see “free” as a lie — either they’ll end up paying for tuition some other way, or worse, they’ll be paying the tuition of someone else who’ll be getting a degree for free. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Gerstein Bocian Agne Strategies conducted online polling of 1,000 Democrats and 1,000 swing voters across 52 swing districts for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Their advice to candidates afterward: Drop the talk of free college. Instead, the firms urged Democrats to emphasize making college more affordable and reducing debt, as well as job skills training, according to an internal DCCC memo.

California legislators want to make the first year of community college tuition-free. It’s already tuition free for low- and moderate-income students, who make up the majority of enrollment. The bill would benefit only students from middle- and upper-middle-class families.

“Free college” is an elitist — and very expensive — idea, writes Anne Kim in Washington Monthly.  

Many white working-class Americans no longer believe that going to college is a ticket to a good job — or any job, pollsters say.

In a post-election poll by PRRI/The Atlantic, 54 percent of white working class Americans said getting a college education is “a risky gamble,” while just 44 percent said it’s “a smart investment.” Similarly, another survey by House Majority PAC this summer found that 57 percent of white working class voters said that “a college degree would result in more debt and little likelihood of landing a good paying job.”

In the PAC survey, a 83 percent of white working-class voters agreed that “a college degree was no longer any guarantee of success in America.” They were enthusiastic about apprenticeships.

Many “middle skill” jobs, which require postsecondary training but not a bachelor’s degree pay middle-class wages and not easily outsourced, writes Kim. “Electricians, for example, earned an average of $56,650 in 2016 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and as much as $90,420.”

“The best path to opportunity for the most Americans—and the path to political opportunity for Democrats—is one that leads to more doors than just college,” Kim concludes.

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