According to the American Freshman Survey, most students were accepted by their first-choice colleges last year — but almost half of them actually enrolled in other schools, primarily for financial reasons.
To find out more, Morning Edition's David Greene spoke with Sylvia Hurtado, head of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which conducts the annual survey.
On forgoing their first-choice schools
Students will go and select colleges based on academic reputation and also what particular majors they are interested in. But they know that sticker price and also the real cost — and that's based on whether or not the college itself offers any kind of scholarships [and] if they have federal financial aid. So ... when students get those letters, they actually evaluate the bottom-line, net cost.
On the implications
There are a few students who ... from the moment they step on campus, they know they will transfer. ... So, there's different strategies being played out currently, and students know that there are other options. ... And also there are online options now, so we have a lot of student mobility. Students are taking courses at a variety of places, maybe at the same time [that] they are attending their initial college.
On the community college alternative
If you start at a two-year, the likelihood of you completing a bachelor's degree is going to be much lower. And that's primarily not because there is bad teaching at the two-year colleges; it's that the larger number of students that are going there are going there for a full variety of reasons. The two-year serves an important purpose, I think. A lot of time they are geared more towards more specific, career-oriented certificate programs. [But] if you went to a four-year where your cohort are very high-expectation — they're all expecting that they are going to get the baccalaureate degree — that's a little different. So, I think one of the things that students don't think about — they certainly think about the faculty, the quality of the faculty, the kinds of courses, whether it has the major they are interested in — but, really, their peers are very important because they influence what they do, ultimately.
On shifting demographics
We are actually seeing demographic change in the high schools, and that is translating into the four-year colleges and universities. We are seeing significant change. There are some states — for example, California, Texas, Florida and, certainly, Georgia and some parts of the Midwest — [that] are seeing a large number of Latino students and also an increase in Asian-American students. So we are actually seeing some diversity.
The proportion of African-Americans has been relatively stable in higher education. Their numbers aren't increasing as much, and then also their making it through high school and beyond is still a problem. So, the proportions that we're seeing at four-year institutions haven't increased in the last couple of decades substantially. So, we really are seeing an area that is of great concern.