Asked who pays for FE courses, 59 per cent did not know that the Government already underwrites course fees, a MORI poll said.
The survey, carried out for the Department for Education and Skills, said most adults who hazard a guess about the level of subsidy think it must be around 50 per cent or less. Many say they would be prepared to pay more.
The findings have been seized upon by education ministers to support their argument that employers and individuals should pay more towards the cost of adult education and training courses.
Further education minister Bill Rammell said: "It is absolutely right that adult learners who can afford to do so should pay more towards the costs of their learning. The MORI poll published today shows the public accepts this argument.
"For non-vocational adult education, the figures show that 84 per cent of people think the individual should pay at least half the cost of their courses, and 60 per cent think they should pay all.
"We believe people are prepared to pay reasonable fees for good quality courses, especially if they are aware how much the public purse contributes to their learning."
The MORI report said: "There is certainly a strong need for the Government to raise public awareness that it pre-subsidise FE courses."
The poll is the second published this month that shows that many mature learners are happy to pay more to study at FE colleges.
Last week, a poll by NOP for the Learning and Skills Development Agency found that 60 per cent of those interviewed are willing to fund some or all of the cost of personal interest or leisure courses.