More bad news for colleges: The number of students choosing not to attend their first-choice school for financial reasons has hit an all-time high. An annual UCLA report found that more students than ever before consider price and availability of financial aid “very important” when making decisions. This may seem like common sense, but it has colleges worried, as Inside Higher Ed reports:
“As state economies have recovered, we haven’t really seen all of those dollars come back into higher education, and it’s concerning that they may be gone for good,” said Kevin Eagan, interim director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California at Los Angeles, which publishes the report annually. “Institutions cannot be too comfortable resting on their laurels and expecting that academic reputation will carry as much weight, or more weight, than any other factor in whether admitted students choose to enroll.” […]While up-front price was not the most-cited reason why students chose the college they did — those are still the institution’s “very good” academic reputation (which 64 percent of students said was “very important”), and its graduates’ job placement rates (“very important” to 53.1 percent of students) — the importance of costs should outpace those other factors within five years or so if it keeps rising at the current rates, Eagan said.
This shift has been a few years in coming, but it’s the latest sign that higher ed industry is coping with an increasingly price-conscious customer base, which will make it more difficult for schools to keep raising tuition to stay in the black. Worse, enrollment is plateauing as well, causing problems for schools planning to make up for lost tuition by admitting more students. This doesn’t spell doom for the industry, but schools that have grown accustomed to decades of easy living will need to start tightening their belts if they want to survive. Administrative budgets should be the first to feel the pinch.