Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst for the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, explains how students make their college-going and financing decisions

colleges-educationEvery September, over one million newly minted high school grads load up the family car with their possessions and head to State U or a private liberal arts college to spend the next four years coming of age in a cozy campus environment.

Homecomings, studying on the quad, sitting in a classroom taught by a bespectacled professor with a tweed coat and patches on his elbows, and attending football games and frat parties during the weekend are common images in mainstream media and movies about college life.

The problem is that this image of college is far from accurate. And it prevents researchers and policymakers from crafting policies that will improve the outcomes of all students, not just this traditional archetype.

For this reason, New America’s Education Policy Program, with generous support from Lumina Foundation, aims to refocus national attention on all students by fielding a survey that mimics the incoming undergraduate higher education population. We’re embarking on this research to better understand how students make their college-going and financing decisions.

Currently, the research base on how students—especially disadvantaged and “nontraditional” students—decide to attend and pay for college is incredibly thin. Surveys such as Sallie Mae’s annual How America Pays for College and the Higher Education Research Institute’s The American Freshman: National Norms focus mainly on young adults going directly to college after high school graduation.

(Next page: How new research will help policymakers tailor their resources to have greater impact)


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