Research shows fewer freshmen enrolled at first-choice school

The Class of 2015 is less likely to be attending their first-choice schools, more willing to adopt liberal social views and are focusing more on their studies, according to a January study by the Higher Education Research Institute.

Linda DeAngelo, assistant director for research at the institute and co-author of the study, said students may be choosing to attend cheaper schools closer to their homes over other schools that they would rather attend. About 58 percent of students said they attend their first-choice school, a number that has been declining since 2006.

The survey collected data from nearly 204,000 freshmen across 270 different four-year institutions, including GW. The Higher Education Research Institute, based at the University of California, Los Angeles, researches trends in education, including government policy and facility and staff improvement.

“Attending college closer to home can be considered more affordable for a variety of reasons including just the travel back and forth to the home. Students may also be increasingly making their choice based on the total amount of out-of-pocket cost to the family,” DeAngelo said.

Students in the survey also reported receiving less financial aid, relying more on loans to help finance college. More than 13 percent said they expected to use at least $10,000 in loans to pay for their first year of college – more than double the Class of 2001’s 5.6 percent.

Reinforcing the results of the nationwide report, Executive Director of Financial Aid Dan Small said in October that the Class of 2015 demonstrated significantly higher need than the class before it. The expected family contribution for this year’s freshman class was on average $1,600 less than last year, the largest dip administrators recalled in a single year.

Small said it is too soon to predict the financial need of the incoming Class of 2016, but added that he will work with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to allot money to incoming students later in the spring when most acceptances will be issued.

Associate Vice President and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Kathryn Napper told The Hatchet last semester that GW was working toward becoming “a school of choice,” but declined to say last week if she thought GW was a first-choice institution for most attendees in the freshman class.

A slight increase in overall Early Decision I applications and binding acceptances for the Class of 2016 indicate steady interest in GW as a first-choice university. Napper speculated that regular applications for the Class of 2016 saw less growth than in past years due to the economy. She cited application fees and cheaper public options as possible causes of the tapering growth.

The study also asked respondents their opinions on social issues, including same-sex marriage, public education accessibility for illegal immigrants and affirmative action in college admissions.

Setting a new record, 71.3 percent of students thought same-sex marriage should be legalized, up from 64.9 percent in 2009.

The amount of students who said undocumented immigrants should be denied access to public education dropped by 4.2 percent over the same time period and the amount of students who supported affirmative action hiked up from 37.4 percent to 42.1 percent – all indications of a more socially liberal freshman class.

The report also found that this year’s freshmen put a greater emphasis on academics than do their older peers. Nearly 40 percent of students reported spending six or more hours a week studying or doing homework as high school seniors, slightly higher than last year’s freshman class, and 3.1 percent more students took at least one Advanced Placement exam.

In 2010 – the most recent data available – 59 percent of GW students reported spending six or more hours studying or preparing for class per week, internal data show. The data includes all GW students and is not broken down by class year.

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