Around 90% of students say they went to college to get a good job, make more money, or get better economic opportunities, according to a research brief from New America.
The findings come from the organization's College Decisions Survey, which queried 1,011 U.S. residents ages 16 to 40 who were either prospective students or in their first semester.
The three most common reasons to go to college were to:
1. Improve economic opportunities, 91%;
2. Make more money, 90%; and
3. Get a good job, 89%.
When broken down by age, respondents over 30 were more likely to say they wanted to attend college to set an example or improve their lives. But traditional students, 16 to 19 years old, were more likely to say they went because their parents wanted them to, to study a favorite topic, or to meet new people.
According to the survey, the three most common elements students look at when selecting a school are:
1. Majors and programs offered, 93%;
2. Availability of financial aid, 88%; and
3. Specific college costs, 88%.
When pressed to select most important element, 63% chose "specific college costs."
"Financial considerations are oftentimes the driving factor behind the decision whether and where to go to college," writes senior policy analyst Rachel Fishman in the brief.
She argues that policymakers must focus on tuition affordability and ensuring that financial aid goes to low-income students.
Additional needs include better post-graduation success tracking to provide applicants with the ROI on degrees from various schools. That necessitates the removal of a federal ban on a student record system, she says.
"Ideally, we like to think of college as an abstract opportunity for learning, development, and growth. [College] can and should be those things, but cost is an unavoidable context," she writes (Adams, "College Bound," Ed Week, 5/28; Fishman, "College Decisions Survey: Deciding to Go to College," New America, 5/28).
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