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How much longer will students be willing to go away to college?

by Jeffrey J. Selingo
As the last of the college acceptances roll in for high school seniors this month, it’s likely more of those offers than ever before will be coming from campuses far from home. Over the last two decades, the number of students traveling a significant distance to college has increased as places that once felt far away now feel as if they are one town over thanks to modern communications and discount airlines.
The trend has only accelerated in recent years as an abundance of college campuses in the Northeast and Midwest struggle to fill their seats given the demographic trends of their surroundings: the high school graduating class of 2020 from states in those two regions is projected to have 80,000 fewer students than the class of 2013, for example.
“There is a recruitment war,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University in Chicago. “Colleges are spending a lot more money to go a lot farther away to get students.”
In seven states, the number of high school graduates leaving to go out-of-state to college has more than doubled since 2008. Those top exporters include Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas, and the biggest of all, California.
California is fertile ground for colleges looking to go far afield for students. Beyond the fact that there are too many high school graduates for too few seats in the state’s public university systems, students in the Golden State are willing to travel to college. The high school class of 2015 from California, for instance, traveled a median distance of 253 miles to go to college, according to data collected by Hobsons through its college-planning tool, Naviance. By comparison, nationwide, about half of students who attend four-year colleges do so within 100 miles of their home.
As a result, colleges from all over the country are sending admissions officers to California, and in some cases hiring full-time recruiters to be on the ground there. The Regional Admission Counselors of California, which represents out-of-state college recruiters, has some 130 members, more than double what it had in five years ago.
But even as more colleges expand their search area for prospects, there are several signs that the number of students willing to get on a plane or drive several hours to go to college is not keeping pace, according to a study I recently authored on the future of college admissions.
Colleges are discounting their tuition more than ever before, and if that aid ever disappears, so too will the students from far away who often have higher travel costs than their classmates. “The composition of the recruitment pool is masking the real problem of discounts,” Boeckenstedt said. (-Washington Post)

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