Higher Education Policy and Practice

Nuggets from Stevens Strategy’s Market Research

We have developed our market research service to help clients better understand the nature of today’s higher education marketplace.  Recent surveys have explored a wide variety of topics, from basic preferences for college size, location, and academic major to complex issues such as openness to single-sex education and tuition price sensitivity.  Some of our findings* have confirmed generally accepted beliefs about higher education, while others might surprise even the most seasoned administrator.  Below, we share with you a few of the many interesting discoveries that we have made.

College Characteristics

  • Some of the most important factors for students in choosing which college to attend are: strong academic reputation, relevant academic programs, high quality faculty and competitive tuition and financial aid.
  • “Academic characteristics” such as strong academic reputation and the opportunity to have close interaction with faculty typically matter most to high-achieving high school students, and matter least to students interested in taking 100% of their courses online.
  • But in general, all respondents considered academic and financially-related factors to be more important than environmental or social factors.
  • In terms of size, most students prefer a college with 1,000 to 10,000 students.
  • Almost two-thirds of respondents preferred to attend a secular institution.
  • The most important aspects of a great campus visit?  Seeing a beautiful campus and meeting friendly people.
  • The most universally appealing majors?  Psychology and Business Administration.
  • There is typically a large divergence in academic program preference among males and females.
  • Among non-academic programs, food services and housing are typically the most important to prospective students.

Tuition and Financial Aid

  • At least three-quarters of high school respondents consider cost of tuition to be a major factor in deciding which college to attend.
  • To gauge price sensitivity, respondents were asked how much more they would be willing to pay (per year) to attend their first choice college rather than their second choice college.  The most popular answer was $1,000-$5,000 per year.
  • When asked how they had paid for or intended to pay for college, high school students were most likely to select “Scholarships”, current college students were most likely to select “Loans”, and college graduates were most likely to select “Parents’/Family Savings”.
  • Respondents planning to use loans to pay for college were asked how much total loan debt they would be willing to take on to finance their undergraduate education.  The most popular answer was $10,000-$25,000.

Single-Sex Education

  • Less than 1% of high school students prefer to attend a single-sex college.  But more than half of respondents are open to the idea of single-sex education, if the school offered other desirable features.
  • The vast majority of male respondents would consider attending a co-ed college that had recently been all-female.
  • When considering single-sex colleges, respondents were most interested in schools that offered the major they want to pursue and had a strong career services program that would help them to get a good job after graduation.  Having a safe campus community, internship opportunities in business and professional areas, and competitive tuition and financial aid were also important factors.
  • Respondents were not concerned about attending a single-sex college with students whose sexual orientation may differ from their own.  Parents were not concerned about this factor either.

We hope these findings have offered you some food for thought. Did anything strike you as particularly surprising or controversial?  We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

* These findings were gleaned and combined from a variety of survey instruments and respondent populations. Please contact us at [email protected] for specific details on the topics discussed in this article.

John Stevens, EdD

President, Stevens Strategy

About the Author: John Stevens, Ed.D.

John A. Stevens is Founder and President of Stevens Strategy, LLC, a full-service consulting firm specializing in managing the process of strategic change in colleges, universities and schools. He also serves as a Founder and Principal of Chronos Company, LLC, organized to design, oversee … (Read More)

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