Even interested students wonder: Is college a worthwhile investment?

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Dive Brief:

  • More than half of high school students who’ve shown some interest in college — 53% — wonder if it is a worthwhile investment, according to a survey released Thursday by Modern Campus, a higher ed software provider, and Ruffalo Noel Levitz, an enrollment, student success and fundraising consultant.
  • Potential first-generation college students were slightly more likely to wonder if college was worth the time, money and effort than were students who would not be the first in their families to attend college, 56% versus 49%, the survey found.
  • Meanwhile, 65% of survey respondents said they expect colleges to provide them with specific skills they will be able to use in the workplace. About half, 49%, expect to have a job offer when they graduate.

Dive Insight:

The surveyed students aren’t representative of the entire pool of high school students. Instead, the survey is tilted toward students who have engaged with the idea of going to college.

That’s because the study is drawn from students who were asked to participate through the online platform Plexuss, which bills itself as a student opportunity network that allows students to showcase themselves to colleges. Results cover 1,025 responses from high school students across the U.S. in January and February.

Nearly half of respondents were high school seniors. Over three-quarters were in public schools, 72% were female, and 65% were first-generation students.

A large majority of high school students in the survey, 86%, said they are dedicated to finishing college. Between 60% and 70% of all high school students typically enroll in postsecondary education immediately after graduation, according to federal data

But understanding how engaged students are thinking could still be of use to higher ed leaders.

“Understanding the factors that drive their decision-making — job outcomes, access to co-curricular activities, cost and program quality — can help colleges and universities tailor their marketing and communications mix to be responsive to learner and parent expectations,” Brian Kibby, Modern Campus’ CEO, said in a statement.

Just over six in 10 of survey respondents said they started planning for college before entering 10th grade. Modern Campus suggested colleges should optimize their websites for mobile phones and students as young as 14 years old. That’s because young people start using a smartphone in 7th grade, on average, according to the report. 

Respondents placed the most value on information about academics, with 73% saying they valued learning about topics like a college’s programs. A slightly smaller share, 67%, said they valued information about the cost of college, while 54% placed value on financial aid information.

Trailing those categories, just 36% of respondents said they valued information on a college’s location, 32% valued information on rankings, and 26% valued information on housing.

Students continued to care most about academics and cost as they aged, but interest in other factors varied with time. For example, 10th graders were more interested in college rankings than were other age groups.

Parents were the top influencers in where students decide to enroll — 68% of respondents said their parents influenced their decision. That’s far above respondents’ friends as influencers, cited by 27%, school counselors, at 26%, and teachers, at 20%.

“Target parents early to build brand awareness via text, email, and digital marketing channels,” a report on the survey findings said. “Keep engaging them throughout the funnel when they are not only in the position to influence their own student, but also to influence other parents.”

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