Economy strongly influences college choice, survey says


College students today are more concerned about the economy than their predecessors, and this is affecting their choice of school. So says a survey conducted by consulting firm Maguire Associates and free online scholarship directory, Fastweb.com.

The College Decision Impact Survey results, released Tuesday, show that the Class of 2015 is choosing its prospective colleges by giving more weight to what the survey calls the “real” costs of the degree, as well as the return students expect to receive on their investment in a particular school's diploma.

More than 21,000 high school seniors, all members of Fastweb and so, therefore, presumably looking for help in paying for school with scholarships, were polled in January 2011 about their college search and application behaviors.

“This is the third year in a row we’ve seen students’ concerns about the economy at an elevated level,” says Tara Scholder, senior vice president, Maguire Associates in a press release. “As the fallout from the recession continues, institutions that want to attract quality students and engage their families need to be experts at communicating the lifetime return on an investment in their school. That means focusing on the unique value proposition that they offer.”

On-campus experiences preferred

Students in the survey strongly preferred in-person instruction for their college-level classes (84 percent). Only 2 percent of students preferred online instruction. A larger percentage (12 percent) favored a combination of online and classroom-based learning.

Popular professions include:

  • Health-related (22 percent)
  • Business (9 percent)
  • Biological and biomedical sciences (9 percent)
  • Engineering (8 percent)
  • Performing and visual arts (7 percent)
  • Education (7 percent)

Getting your money’s worth

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of the prospective college students surveyed said that the economy has “greatly” or “somewhat” influenced their college application choices. That number is in line with the trend the survey has seen in these recession-hit years, with 60 percent in 2009 and 64 percent in 2010, indicating that level of concern.

According to the report, students consider the following things to be the most important when choosing the schools to which they will apply:

  • Quality of major (94 percent)
  • “Value” of education (quality and cost) (92 percent)
  • Employment opportunities after graduation (91 percent)
  • Availability of need- or merit-based aid (87 percent)
  • Total costs (87 percent)

Facebook me

The survey also showed, not surprisingly, that social media plays a big role in shaping students’ ideas about where to apply and how. Maguire Associates advises colleges and universities looking to recruit to get tudents “where they live and breathe”—in other words, Facebook and YouTube.

45 percent of respondents say they visit Facebook several times each day. More than half report that they have:

  • Watched a YouTube video created by a school (57 percent)
  • Searched for scholarships using social media or networking sites (56 percent)
  • Read posts about a school on a social networking site (53 percent)

The full survey results are available from Maguire Associates here.