Feb 9, 2011

Economics Continues to Influence College Choice

This year’s CIRP Freshman Survey confirms what most local families already know: financial concerns influence college choice. In fact, almost two-thirds of the 201,818 incoming freshmen surveyed by UCLA at 279 of the nation’s baccalaureate colleges and universities reported that the “current economic situation significantly affected my college choice” (20 percent agree strongly and 42.0 percent agree somewhat).

The CIRP Freshman Survey is the largest and longest-running survey of American college students. It has been published annually since 1966 and reflects the attitudes and trends expressed by a sample of the 1.5 million first-time full-time students entering four-year colleges in 2010.

In this year’s survey, students reporting an economic effect on college choice were also more likely to have “major” financial concerns about financing their education, to plan to live with family during school, and less likely to be going to a college more than 100 miles away.

And although both “affected” and “not affected” students were equally likely to report being accepted by their first choice institutions, those reporting that their college choice was impacted by the economic situation were much less likely to be attending their first choice college.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the “challenging economic landscape” also continues to influence students’ college experiences. The percentage of students using loans to help pay for colleges remains high at 53.1 percent and more students reported receiving grants and scholarships than at any point since 2001—73.4 percent.

“The increasing cost of higher education poses a significant barrier to college access for today’s students,” said Sylvia Hurtado, co-author of the CIRP report and director of the Higher Education Research Institute. “Students and families are now charged with the task of becoming more resourceful and strategic in finding new and creative ways to pay for college.”

Although academic reputation still weighs heavily in college choice, it’s clear that financial considerations are becoming increasingly more dominant as families and students are faced with harsh economic realities.

The following are the 22 reasons for choosing a college that students were offered in the UCLA survey. They are ranked in descending order, based on which factors students said were “very important” in influencing their final choice.

  1. College has a very good academic reputation (62 percent)

  2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (53.3 percent)

  3. I was offered financial assistance (45.5 percent)

  4. A visit to the campus (41.8 percent)

  5. The cost of attending this college (41 percent)

  6. College has a good reputation for social activities (39.5 percent)

  7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.7 percent)

  8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools (32.2 percent)

  9. Wanted to live near home (19 percent)

  10. Information from a website (17.9 percent)

  11. Rankings in national magazines (16.7 percent)

  12. Parents wanted me to go to this school (13.7 percent)

  13. Admitted early decision and/or early action (13.7 percent)

  14. Could not afford first choice (12.2 percent)

  15. High school counselor advised me (9.6 percent)

  16. Not offered aid by first choice (8.9 percent)

  17. Athletic department recruited me (8.8 percent)

  18. Attracted by religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.3 percent)

  19. My teacher advised me (6 percent)

  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6 percent)

  21. Private college counselor advised me (3.5 percent)

  22. Ability to take online courses (2.7 percent)

For more information or to order a complete copy of the report, visit the HERI website.

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