Tuition/cost are important, but so are online options


Results from a survey by Anthology emphasize that tuition and cost, followed by location, are still the most important factors in selecting a college — and they are especially important for current and prospective community college students — but next on the list is the availability of online courses.

About 77% of community college respondents said tuition and cost rank as the first or second most important factor when researching higher education institutions to attend, according to the survey results reported in a white paper from the educational technology services company. But it’s the students’ responses to preferred course modalities that is eye-catching.

Nearly one-third (32%) of respondents rated the availability of online courses as either the most important or second most important element when seeking colleges, according to the paper. When asked what modality they preferred, 41% said a hybrid program (online and in-person components) and one-third (34%) said completely online. Sixteen percent said they preferred a completely in-person program.

Among community college students, most of those surveyed preferred completely online programs over hybrid programs, 46% compared to 33%, respectively.

The survey included 1,443 respondents, 23% of whom attend or are considering attending a community college (35% are at a four-year public university or considering one). Private university and graduate students were also included. Polled students represent a wide range of ages and types of credentials/degrees being pursued.

What students want

Anthology posed questions to students that would help colleges develop strategies to make themselves more attractive to current and prospective students. Questions focused on students’ sources for information about colleges, experiences with application and enrollment processes, and the role of career prospects in their decision to enroll.

In terms of finding information, internet searches (66%) and college websites (63%) were the top sources, followed by family and friends (36%) and university ranking guides (28%). Only 17% said they rely on guidance counselors or mentors. The trend was similar among all types of degrees that students were seeking, the report says.

But there were slight differences between first-generation college students and minority students, who tended to prefer an institution’s website over a general internet search, and they appear to reference ranking guides slightly more. Meanwhile, community college students seemed to favor internet searches more (73%).

The length of a college’s application and enrollment process also can hamper potential students, with 66% of respondents saying they expect an application to take no more than one hour to complete, the paper says.

“This is important to keep in mind in reviewing the application process — lengthy applications may lead to a higher number of incomplete applications or a negative sentiment on the part of the applicant, potentially impacting their likelihood to attend,” it says.

Concerns about succeeding

Engagement and support during the application and enrollment process are also important to many students, the paper notes.

When asked about concerns regarding enrolling at a college or choosing a program of study, almost half (48%) mentioned concerns about their ability to succeed. Other concerns cited by students: time commitment, finding a job after graduation, whether it is the right college/program for what the student would like to do, and having the right technology to complete the program, among others.

Community college students cited similar concerns, with their ability to succeed noted the most often at nearly 50%, followed by time commitment needed (42%) and the ability to find a job after graduation (38%).

A higher percentage of community college respondents (65%) indicated getting a job as a key outcome of their higher education, compared to 59% of the overall students.

Quick list

The paper lists key areas that can help colleges in boosting admissions and enrollment based on the survey findings:

  • Ensure that the college’s website is “engaging, easy to use, and geared toward prospective students in how information is presented.”
  • Review how certain information is shown, especially cost of attendance and available online course options.
  • Continue to promote the value of the degree, especially in the current economic climate.
  • Ensure that the admissions and financial aid offices have a clear path and direction for students to follow to get information.
  • Identify additional ways to support applicants throughout the application and enrollment process.
  • Continue to find ways to clarify and reduce steps needed for application and enrollment.
  • Identify the preferred communication method for applicants and offer several options.
  • Highlight career opportunities and career prospects on the college website and include them in communication and events for prospective students and applicants.
  • Continue to communicate with students after they apply, while reviewing their application to build the connection and keep them informed of progress.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.