When students’ four-year college plans change

Recent high school seniors who planned to attend a four-year college this fall but opted not to didn’t just give up on college. In fact, more than half of those students (53%) selected another path, including a community college, another two-year program or part-time bachelor’s programs.

Those are among the findings of a new report from the Art & Science Group that examined why students who intended to go to a baccalaureate institution decided not to, based on a survey this spring of 2,408 high school seniors. Another one-quarter (24%) of those students — called non-attending students — indicated they would take the semester off, with 9% saying they were deferring enrollment. Only 3% said they had no plans to attend any college.

While paying for college was among factors in their decision not to go to a four-year college, only one in four (26%) of non-attending students cited cost-related concerns or need to work to help support themselves or their families as the primary reason not to attend. Political considerations also weren’t a factor — only 2% indicated it played a significant role in their decision.

However, not surprisingly, lower-income and first-generation students are among some groups who are less likely to have made decisions to attend a four-year institution, the report says. Asian and Black students appeared more likely to plan to attend a four-year college (78% and 67%, respectively), while Hispanic, White and students from mixed or other races were about half and half on attending and non-attending.

The poll also noted that there wasn’t much difference between how attending and non-attending students obtained information about college, with talking with family members, visiting institutions’ websites and meeting with guidance counselors among the top resources.

The report, which focused on how four-year colleges could target non-attending students to improve their enrollments, noted that students continue to recognize the value of higher education, and that leaders should focus on marketing that aspect, along with affordability. Researchers observed that there was an increase in students using colleges’ cost estimators this spring, which they said may be a result of problems with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and concerns about delayed award notifications.

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