College Affordability, 2008
In 2008, Project New America was commissioned by the National Education Association to conduct a large research study to understand college affordability as an electoral issue and leverage the findings in the press, media, and campaign environment. Using our vast repository of nationwide data, education research, and our existing knowledge base, we worked with NEA to build the team, manage the research, and distribute the findings to our network of subscribers, clients, and the progressive infrastructure.
Prior to beginning work on this project, PNA had already gained expertise in voters’ attitudes toward education. Among our first projects was a 3-state, 1,200-interview Western regional poll on education issues. We’d also delved into the issue in our statewide landscape research in Western states.
What we learned from that research is that education is a major point of hope for most voters, and most see education as a an area where government should be placing resources. These feelings are particularly intense among Hispanic voters.
PNA employed over 3,400 online and telephone respondents, as well as oversamples of parents, Hispanics, recent graduates with loans, and current colleges students.
The research showed that college affordability was the sleeper issue of campaign 2008. It linked basic economic concerns and education, connected parent’s anxiety about children, and was crucial to both young and older voters. 78% of voters found it more difficult to afford a college education than it was 10 years ago. 64% of voters agreed that the middle class doesn’t get enough help paying for college. And by nearly 2 to 1, people favored Obama’s plan to give a tuition tax credit to students who commit to 100 hours of public service over McCain’s plan to expand lender-of-last resort capabilities for state guarantee agencies.
We released our survey data on September 17th, 2008 as part of the National Education Association’s “Got Tuition?” Campaign, as well as to the entire PNA network. Immediately after, press stories such as “College Affordability Belongs in the Debate” - Editorial, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 19, 2008, began appearing and then candidate Barack Obama incorporated this messaging into his first Presidential Debate. He stated, “One of the things I think we have to do is make sure that college is affordable for every young person in America.”