Financial Aid

College Choices in a Down Economy

Mark Kantrowitz

October 07, 2009

College Choices in a Down Economy

Influences on 'Switchers'

Students who initially preferred a private college were twice as likely to switch to a public college in their final choice as students who initially preferred a public college and switched to a private college (27% vs 14%). Money had a primary impact on the switchers in both directions. Cost and affordability were deciding factors with two-thirds focusing on the out-of-pocket cost. (Out-of-pocket cost dramatically increased in rank from March to May while other criteria decreased in rank.) Students who switched from private to public were much more likely to enroll in-state (75% vs 46%). Of the students who switched from public to private, 48% said that student aid was the main reason for the switch, and 36% identified total costs as the primary reason. First generation college students are more likely to attend a public college overall, but they are also more likely to switch to a private college. Among students who did not enroll at their first-choice college, the top reasons for choosing their enrollment college were total cost (45.6%), financial aid (41.9%) and close to home (32.0%). Among students who enrolled at their first-choice college, the top reasons for the choice were quality of major (48.3%), campus setting (40.7%) and academic reputation (40.3%). Of those who did not enroll at their first choice, 30% said they didn't enroll because they couldn't afford it and 12% because they got a better financial aid offer elsewhere. Some of the more striking results from the survey related to comparisons of what families said they would do with what they actually did. For example, when asked about their willingness to consider options for saving money, after they had chosen a college in May high school seniors were much more likely to consider living at home and commuting, starting off at a community college and transferring to a 4-year school, and attending an in-state public college for the lower tuition. In both cases a significant portion of high school seniors were willing to work part-time in college.

Different Perceptions of Appeals for More Aid

Curiously, students and parents had different perceptions with regard to appeals for more aid. While roughly the same percentages said that they had appealed for more aid (22% of students and 21% of parents), parents were much more likely to report that the college had increased the aid offer (50% of parents vs 35% of students). Parents also seemed to have higher expectations than students, with more reporting that the financial aid offer was lower than expected (33.4% of students vs 44.7% of parents) and fewer reporting that the financial aid offer was higher than expected (22.0% of students vs 14.2% of parents). The survey results were based on responses from 22,734 high school seniors and 4,806 of their parents, and are statistically significant with an accuracy of +/- 1% at the 99% confidence level.

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