OUR THOUGHTS ON:

Costs and Financial Aid Growing Factors in Students' Decision-Making Process

Higher Education|Not-for-Profit

By Lauren Weddell

Almost fifteen years after I began the process of applying to colleges, the annual Freshman Survey titled “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013” by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, part of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, reports results that were consistent with my own experience.   I chose not to enroll at my first-choice four-year institution, despite being admitted, based on the cost of tuition and lack of financial aid.   My first-choice university’s tuition rates (excluding room and board) were $24,336, and I received no scholarships and no aid.    My second-choice university’s tuition rates (excluding room and board) were $6,422, and I received a scholarship.   It didn’t take me long to make my decision.   I was an accountant even then.

According to the survey, which is based on 165,743 first-time, full-time students entering 234 various four-year U. S. colleges and universities, I’m not alone.  Fewer students are enrolling in their first-choice institution, with the biggest driver being cost of education.   Since the question was first asked in the survey in 1974, the number of students enrolling at their first-choice school is at its lowest point.   Factors that came into play for students accepted but not enrolling in their first-choice institution included the cost of attending the college (62.1%), being offered financial assistance by the current institution (59.7%), not being able to afford their first choice institution (40.4%) and not being offered aid by the first-choice institution (25.7%).  This supports the beliefs, held by many, that costs to attend college and the availability of financial aid are becoming driving factors in college choice, especially for students who are the first generation in their families attending college.

While the number-one reason for choosing a particular college or university continues to be ‘a very good academic reputation’ (64%) followed by ‘graduates getting good jobs’ (53.1%), the cost of attending college and the offering of financial assistance are growing factors in the decision during a time when tuition costs continue to rise and colleges and universities are under increased pressure to manage costs.

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