Choosing College

Thursday, September 17, 2015
09:00 AM 11:30 AM
1899 L Street NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC, 20036

It's that time of year. Recent high school grads are loading up the family car and heading to State U or a private liberal arts college. They chose this college after carefully weighing their options, with help from their family members and guidance counselor. They'll spend the next four years coming of age living on a cozy campus.

Yet people don't realize that many first-time college students don't fit the traditional college student archetype that society tends to envision. They're not entering college straight from high school. They're taking classes while working full- or part-time. Many have families to care for. Moreover, many don't know about or have access to resources to help them make careful, well-informed decisions about what college is best for them.

The current research base on how students - especially older, "nontraditional" students - decide to attend and pay for college is incredibly thin. A lack of understanding about nontraditional students encourages policymakers to craft policies that are targeted only to a narrow subset of college students. It also promotes a system where students lack key information to help inform their decisions.

Recent survey research from Public Agenda and New America aims to help practitioners, researchers and policymakers better understand the expectations and concerns of today's students and the factors they consider when choosing a college. Findings from that research include:

  • 41 percent of students said they did not find enough helpful information to make their college decision.
  • Just 37 percent of community college students say they seriously looked into other schools before enrolling.
  • Less than 1 in 5 adult prospective students has used an interactive website like the College Scorecard when considering college choices.
  • 48 percent of students from families making less than $50,000 were unfamiliar with the Pell Grant, the cornerstone of federal financial aid for low-income students.

How can the findings of these surveys help inform policymaking focused on improving student outcomes, particularly as Congress looks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act? How can we help prospective students have a better understanding of which college will be the right fit for them?

Click on the video below for a presentation of respective surveys from Public Agenda and New America and a follow-up panel discussion with researchers and policymakers.

Join the discussion online using #CollegeDecisions and following @PublicAgenda and @NewAmericaEd.


9:00 AM: Breakfast and Registration

9:30 AM: Welcome and Opening Presentation

Carolin Hagelskamp
Director of Research, Public Agenda
Author of Is College Worth it For Me?

Rachel Fishman
Senior Policy Analyst, Education Policy Program, New America
Author of the College Decisions Series

10:00 AM: Panel Discussion

Kevin Fudge
Manager of Government Relations and Community Affairs, American Student Assistance

John Pryor
Principal, Pryor Education Insights

Carrie Warick
Director of Partnerships and Policy, National College Access Network

Moderator: Libby Nelson
Education Reporter, Vox

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