What parents are saying about going to college

Inside Higher Ed and Gallop recently released the results of a poll of parents of pre-college students about college. The article and full report provide valuable insight to marketers and communicators in higher education.

Some of the key findings are as follows:

  1. Sticker price reigns supreme. Despite efforts to educate students and families about financial aid, seven out of 10 parents of ninth to twelfth graders are somewhat likely or very likely to restrict their child’s college selection based upon published tuition.
  2. Parents want their children to go to college to get a good job more than any other reason. This ranks higher than to become a well-rounded person, to earn more money, to learn to think critically, and to learn more about the world.
  3. Parents may or may not help pay for college. The poll showed that 21 percent of parents would consider taking $50,000 or more in loans to pay for college, and 20 percent would not take on any debt.

These are important findings for anyone on a college campus responsible for academic and co-curricular programs, tuition and financial aid, and communications to students and families. Higher education marketers should review these results in the context of their own institutions, perhaps asking key questions about their programs.

With respect to pricing and debt, marketers might ask the following questions: How do parents respond to published tuition and fees? How well do parents understand how financial aid works? Would keeping tuition low help attract more students or would it not likely make a difference?

With respect to jobs, marketers might ask how the career services office is prepared to help students enter the job market, beginning from the time that the student arrives on campus. The question does not need to be limited to career services, however. Provosts, deans, and department chairs should consider how academic departments are counseling students to find jobs.

For communications professionals, the survey results invite questions about how we promote a college or university and its programs. These findings are particularly challenging for small, private, liberal arts colleges that have a higher sticker price and a lower emphasis on job placement. What do you say to parents in this environment?

The survey results indicate that a focus on competitive cost and positive job placement outcomes would resonate with parents. Additionally, colleges and universities need to be sensitive to the preferences of parents on the topic of debt for their son or daughter’s college education.

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