Money continues to play a dominant role in where high school seniors go to college.
Perhaps not surprisingly, money continues to play a dominant role in where high school seniors go to college, an annual survey finds, but it also shows that many don’t consider one factor that could significantly affect the final tab for their degree: the time it takes to graduate.
The survey of nearly 193,000 first-time, full-time freshmen at 283 four-year colleges and universities found that 83.4% expect to graduate in four years. Yet, at the schools they attend, just 40.6% graduate, on average, in four years. Federal data show that 38% of first-time, full-time freshmen who entered a four-year college in 2004 graduated within four years; just 58% graduated in six.
Concerns about low graduation rates have been at the forefront of federal and state policy debates recently. In an “open letter” released Thursday, a national commission of college presidents urges colleagues to make retention and completion a priority, arguing that “far too many (students) never make it to graduation.”
Even so, the significance of the problem is “just not sinking in” with students and parents, says John Pryor, director of UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program, which released the survey today.
Economist Sandy Baum, co-author of the College Board’s annual Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing reports, says the primary cost for students who take longer to graduate is forgone earnings. In many cases, students who take light course loads, take courses that don’t count toward their degree, or change or add a major pay more in tuition.
“We should find ways to communicate better with students about the very different on-time graduation rates at different institutions,” Baum says. “Students need good information conveyed in meaningful ways.”
Just 30.4% of freshmen in the UCLA survey said their school’s graduation rate was a “very important” factor in their college search. Pryor says the lack of attention to graduation rates is alarming, given that record numbers of students are citing economic factors as a driver in their college decisions. For example:
66.6% said they believe current economic conditions significantly affected their choice of college, up from 62.1% two years ago.
43.3% said “the cost of attending this college” was very important, up from 40.6% last year and 31.0% in 2004.
13.4% said not being able to afford their first-choice institution was a very important reason in deciding where to enroll, up from 9.4% in 2006, the first year the question was asked.
9.5% said not being offered financial aid by their first choice was a very important reason in deciding where to enroll, up slightly from 9.3% last year.
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