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Survey: Cost a growing factor in college decisions

Apr. 3, 2014 - 06:16PM   |  
Students who are accepted into their first choice of school often determine they can't afford to attend, according to a survey by UCLA'S Higher Education Research Institute.
Students who are accepted into their first choice of school often determine they can't afford to attend, according to a survey by UCLA'S Higher Education Research Institute. (The Associated Press)
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SAN FRANCISCO — A survey of the nation’s college freshmen has found that the percentage attending their first-choice school has reached its lowest level in almost four decades, as cost and the availability of financial aid have come to play an influential role in decisions of where to enroll.

The annual survey, released in March, conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, found that while more than three-quarters of those who started college last fall were admitted to the school they most wanted to attend, only 57 percent ended up going to their top school. That was the lowest rate in the 39 years that the institute has asked first-time freshmen if they enrolled at their dream college.

Kevin Eagan, the institute’s interim managing director and an assistant professor at UCLA, said the cost of attending college appears to be largely responsible for the decline. A record 46 percent of students reported that cost was a very important factor in where they ended up, compared with 31 percent nine years ago. Meanwhile, the share of respondents who said being offered financial aid was a crucial factor in the decision to enroll at their current campus reached 49 percent — an all-time high.

“The difficult financial decisions that students and their families have to make about college are becoming more evident,” Eagan said. “Colleges that can reduce net costs to families are gaining an edge in attracting students.”

Although many colleges are turning to online courses as a way to reduce costs and the time it takes to earn a degree, the survey showed that the idea was not very popular with students. Less than 7 percent indicated there was a very good chance they would take an online course offered by their college. The percentage was twice as high, however, among students at historically black colleges and universities.

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