Students Giving Up on their First-Choice Colleges because of High Costs

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
(graphic: CBC News)

Rising tuition costs are causing more young Americans than ever before to skip attending their preferred college.


A survey (pdf) out of UCLA found only 57% of incoming freshmen last fall had enrolled in their first choice of university, even though 76% reported being accepted by their No. 1 selection.


The 57% mark was the lowest recorded by UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) since 1974, when it first measured this aspect of college life.


The survey also found the percentage of students indicating that cost was a “very important” factor in choosing a college reached a 10-year high (45.9%). That rate was 15 percentage points higher than what students said in 2004.


Financial aid concerns also have gone up in the last 10 years, with 49% reporting financial assistance was “very important” in selecting which school to enroll in. In 2004, the percentage was only 34%.


“The difficult financial decisions that students and their families have to make about college are becoming more evident,” Kevin Eagan, interim director of CIRP, said in a press release. “Colleges that can reduce net costs to families are gaining more of an edge in attracting students to their campus.”


Tuition costs were more of a concern among first-generation students (54%) than continuing-generation students (44%), CIRP discovered.


The gap between first-generation students and continuing-generation students was even wider when asked about the importance of financial aid in choosing their college, 60% versus 46%.


Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, which conducted the survey, said the numbers reveal how first-generation students “do not want to create a financial burden for their families, who know less about the complex financial aid forms, details of loans and tax-credit benefits, which do not ease the burden of initial out-of-pocket costs.”


“Students are smart to understand net cost differences, but they otherwise must rely on high schools and institutions to help them navigate the college-choice and financial aid processes. It is not clear that there is adequate counseling for the final stage of decisions these students make,” Hurtado said.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Concerns over College Costs, Financial Aid Hit All-Time High as Factors in Students' Choice of School (Cooperative Institutional Research Program)

The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013 (Cooperative Institutional Research Program) (pdf)

Student Financial Aid Sending More Money to Wealthy Families (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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