Feb 15, 2012

College Choice and Economic Realities

The CIRP Freshman Survey is the largest and longest-running survey of American college students. It has been published annually since 1966 and this year reflects the attitudes and trends expressed by 203,967 first-time, full-time students entering 270 four-year colleges of “varying levels of selectivity and type in the United States."

The good news from this year’s survey is that high school seniors are continuing to get in to their first choice colleges. Seventy-six percent of the students surveyed indicated they were admitted to schools at the top of their lists.

Once admitted, however, only 58% of those surveyed eventually matriculated at those schools, possibly because over 67% had some or major concerns about their ability to finance their college education.

And they have cause for concern. According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the economic downturn continues to affect students’ ability to pay for college. In 2011, fewer incoming students reported financing college through grants or scholarships (down to 69.5 percent from 73.4 percent).

Students also reported receiving less aid with only 26.8 percent receiving $10,000 or more in grants or scholarships in 2011, as compared with 29.2 percent in 2010.

Sadly, students are increasingly turning to loans to fill in the gap. In 2001, 5.6 percent of students reported that they expected to use $10,000 or more in loans to cover first year college expenses. By 2011, this figure more than doubled to 13.3 percent.

"Scholarships and grants are fundamental to closing the gap between college costs and what students and families can manage to pay out of pocket," said Sylvia Hurtado, co-author of the report and director of UCLA's HERI. "This combination of fewer funds from scholarships and the increased high usage of loans exaggerate the problem of paying for and completing college."

Although academic reputation still weighs heavily in college choice, it’s clear that financial realities may have an effect on the final decision to attend.

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 (63.7 percent)

  2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (54.6 percent)

  3. I was offered financial assistance (44 percent)

  4. A visit to the campus (42.5 percent)

  5. The cost of attending this college (40.6 percent)

  6. College has a good reputation for social activities (38.6 percent)

  7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.1 percent)

  8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools (33.4 percent)

  9. Wanted to live near home (18.9 percent)

  10. Information from a website (18.5 percent)

  11. Rankings in national magazines (18.2 percent)

  12. Parents wanted me to go to this school (14.3 percent)

  13. Admitted early decision and/or early action (15 percent)

  14. Could not afford first choice (12.6 percent)

  15. High school counselor advised me (9.5 percent)

  16. Not offered aid by first choice (9.3 percent)

  17. Athletic department recruited me (8.3 percent)

  18. Attracted by religious affiliation/orientation of college (6.8 percent)

  19. My teacher advised me (6 percent)

  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6.1 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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