Most College Students Would Pick Full Ride at Unknown School Over Full Tuition at Prestigious University: Poll

college student debt free tuition
The campus of Harvard Business School, July 26, 2016, in Boston. A recent poll found students would prefer a free tuition education at a school no one has heard of over paying full tuition at a prestigious university. Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images

Many students dream of going to Harvard, Yale and other notable higher education institutions, but a recent poll found when it comes to free tuition, most students think a prestigious name isn't worth the price.

The choice between a prestigious school with a hefty price tag and a lesser-known name with a smaller financial burden is one many incoming college students faced. More than 40 million people in America have student loans and debt has become such a widespread problem that a game show was created to give people a chance to pay it off.

A March poll found graduates considered their loans were "worth it" to attend college. However, if given the choice between free tuition and a prestigious degree, a majority of college students say they would choose a no-name institution, according to a recent survey.

Released by College Pulse, a platform designed to gather student opinions, on Wednesday, the poll surveyed more than 8,000 students attending four-year colleges or universities across the country.

Sixty-seven percent of students responded that they would choose free tuition at a "university nobody has heard of," compared to 26 percent who said they'd prefer to pay full tuition at a prestigious university. Seven percent responded that they were unsure which they would choose.

Students with financial aid were more likely to prefer free tuition than students without financial aid, 71 percent to 55 percent.

When broken down by race, the majority of all groups of students preferred free tuition, although the percentages differed. Asian students were most split, with 49 percent favoring free tuition and 42 percent opting for the prestigious university. Black or African-American students overwhelmingly chose free tuition over full tuition, with 74 percent of respondents compared to 21 percent. Other races of students preferred free tuition over full tuition by margins of:

  • White: 67 percent to 25 percent
  • Hispanic/Latino: 67 percent to 24 percent
  • American Indian: 56 percent to 39 percent

The 2020 election may still be over a year away, but candidates have already started voicing their plans to address the increasing cost of a college education. Senator Kamala Harris has called for getting rid of for-profit colleges, and Beto O'Rourke stated community college should be free. Senator Elizabeth Warren has unveiled the most extensive plan, which would provide debt cancellation based on household income. Households with less than $100,000 would have $50,000 in debt canceled. Households making between $100,000 and $250,000 would receive some debt cancellation and those making more than $250,000 would receive no debt cancellation.