Survey Indicates Most Students Will Enroll In Preferred College

By Staff
July 8, 2009

A new survey released today indicates that the majority of graduating seniors will attend the type of college they had originally hoped to attend.

The study, conducted by Maguire Associates, found that 86 percent of those students who wanted to attend a public institution will do so, and 73 percent of those who indicated their desire to attend a private institution are enrolling in a private college, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The survey was conducted among 3,000 seniors and 1,000 parents of seniors in May and June.

The study challenges earlier reports that the recession is significantly impacting college choices. "We had expected that families would continue to place a premium on the preferred educational experiences for their children, and the enrollment results bear this out," said Tara Scholder, senior vice president for research operation at Maguire Associates, who was quoted in a press release.

Nevertheless, the survey found that some students were "switchers," who will be attending a different college than what they originally preferred, and affordability appears to be a major factor. Despite wishing to attend private institutions, 225 students ultimately enrolled in public colleges, and 55 percent reported that economic conditions made their decisions more difficult.

But surprisingly, the survey also found that 226 students who initially preferred public institutions were enrolling at private schools. "It was interesting that it went both ways," said Kathleen Dawley, president of Maguire Associates, who was quoted in The Chronicle.

Of those in the latter group, more than half had a family income of $60,000 or less, 61 percent received need-based financial aid and 49 percent received merit aid. The findings suggest that many of the students may have been lured to private colleges by qualifying for significant financial aid packages.

"It's clear that colleges and universities who stepped up their level of need- and merit-based awards for individual students reaped the benefits," said John Maguire, chairman and founder of Maguire Associates, who was quoted in a press release. "Strategic pricing that reduced families' net costs provided an important incentive for students to enroll."

Maguire Associates also surveyed more than 8,000 high school juniors and nearly 900 parents of juniors in February and March, and will continue to track their enrollment decisions over next year. The juniors currently show a stronger sense that private schools may be unaffordable to them, and plan to apply to more institutions.

"These early differences show that the correlation between the economy and students' preferences and behaviors is still unfolding," said Maguire, "and we're likely to see their full implications in the year ahead."

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