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College Choices in a Down Economy

College Choices in a Down Economy

Mark Kantrowitz

October 07, 2009

Fastweb partnered with Maguire Associates, a firm that specializes in market research, analysis and predictive modeling for colleges and universities, to evaluate the impact of the economy on college choices by high school seniors and their parents. Initial surveys were sent in February and March 2009 to identify the initial selection of colleges. Follow-up surveys were sent in May 2009 to determine the impact on actual college choices.

 

Practical Insights

Understanding the trends in college choices might help future applicants crystallize their decision-making. Some of the more noteworthy findings include:

1. Financial considerations are often the deciding factor when students have difficulty choosing a college.

2. Students who did not enroll at their first-choice college were more likely to base their decision on affordability, while students who enrolled at their first-choice college were more likely to focus on academic quality and setting.

3. Families are increasingly focusing on out-of-pocket cost (the cost of attendance after subtracting just grants, not loans) when evaluating colleges.

4. Families that are more concerned about the economy are more likely to let their concerns influence their choice of college. They want good quality schools but at bargain prices, such as in-state public 4-year colleges, elite colleges with “no loans” policies and generous financial aid offers, and community colleges as a lower cost detour on the way to a Bachelor’s degree.

Concerns about the Economy

Parents were more concerned about the economy than students, with 84% of parents somewhat or extremely concerned about the economy, compared with 69% of students. About two-thirds of families said that concerns about the economy somewhat or greatly affected the selection of colleges to which applications were sent (64.1% of parents and 60.8% of students). Families that were more concerned about finances tended to increase the number of applications, and to send applications primarily to colleges that said that they met full demonstrated financial need.

High school seniors from low income families were more likely to be worried about how to pay for school than seniors from upper income families. 65% of low income students reported that their concerns about the economy somewhat or greatly influenced their choice of application schools, compared with 52% of upper income students. These students were more likely to be influenced by a more generous financial aid package. The greater their concern about the economy, the more likely the concerns were to influence their choice of a college. About three-fifths of families (58% of students and 59% of parents) reported that their financial situation had worsened by May.


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