Mar 20, 2013

Survey says Parental Concerns over Cost and Jobs will affect College Choice

Two-thirds of parents surveyed in a poll released today by Inside Higher Ed say they are very likely or somewhat likely to restrict the colleges to which their children apply because of concerns about costs. 

And not surprisingly, the poll found that parental concerns about paying for college and the importance of college programs that prepare students for jobs appear to grow as children get closer to college age.

These results are based on responses collected last fall from a survey of 3,269 adults with school-age children conducted on behalf of Inside Higher Ed by Gallup as part of the organization’s nightly poll of Americans on a range of topics.  

And they're not too different from the CIRP Freshman Survey which also concluded that college choice and economic reality are becoming increasingly connected.

It’s common knowledge within the counseling community that parents of college-bound students are becoming more and more vocal about college cost.  And these concerns are beginning to have a major impact on college choice despite reassurances from college and university leaders who insist that students should not be “scared off” by sticker price because of generous financial aid offered by many schools.

The Inside Higher Ed poll also asked parents to identify the most important reason for their child to go to college, and the top answer by far (38 percent) was “to get a good job.”  The third most common answer (12 percent) was “to earn more money,” while learning about the world or learning to think critically dropped well below 10 percent.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, said these results should be “a wake-up call” to college leaders.

“Emphasis on jobs and on affordability has been building for a very long time,” commented Ekman.  “What’s new is the tremendous acceleration of the emphasis of jobs at the same time there is a tremendous emphasis on affordability.  And this is a direct consequence of the economic meltdown.”

Despite clear messages about college cost and jobs, parents are a little more ambivalent about how much debt they were willing to accumulate for their child’s undergraduate education. 

One in five parents (20 percent) said that they were unwilling to accumulate any loan debt while another fifth (21 percent) said they would be willing to accumulate $50,000 or more in college loan debt for their child.

By contrast, only one percent of college admissions directors told Inside Higher Ed in a separate poll that $50,000 in undergraduate loan debt was reasonable for a student to accumulate.

As incoming admissions results gather steam in the coming weeks, more than one family will be closely scrutinizing costs vs. benefits along the lines suggested by the Inside Higher Ed poll, and enrollment decisions will ultimately be made that hopefully support the overall financial health of the family.  

But the point is that many of these decisions need to be made at the front end of the process, and not after students and families become  personally invested in outcomes they can neither afford nor justify.  And it appears that families are beginning to understand the harsh economic realities at the root of college choice.

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