Information about college from traditional sources is not as accessible to or easily understood by low-income and first-generation students, who tend to rely on high school counselors – when they’re available – and unsolicited marketing materials when researching colleges, according to new research that suggests the best ways to reach under-represented students.
“Deciding on Postsecondary Education,” a report of the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, looked at how under-represented students get information about and choose colleges and is based on a review of literature and results from 11 focus groups held in eight states.
College selection for traditional students, particularly those of a high socioeconomic status, is a process, begun years before enrollment with the gathering of formal and informal information. But adult and low-income, first-generation students tend to choose a college at the same time they develop an aspiration to attend college.
Parents play the strongest role in college choice, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Parents’ educational attainment, parental encouragement and student achievement are the biggest factors in college aspirations and enrollment of traditional students. These students seek information about programs of study, college quality, costs, geographic location and size.
Low-income and first-generation students also look for these things, but not in the same order of importance. Program of study is the first priority, and location and costs or financial aid is No. 2. These students also value diversity, which is the No. 3 priority. Their parents are most concerned about costs, and adult students are concerned about convenience – when and where courses are offered.
Focus group results indicate that information about college via the Internet or published sources is not as accessible (due to a lack of computer access) or as easily understood for low-income or first-generation students as for traditional students. These students tend to rely on high school counselors, when available, for college information as well as unsolicited college marketing materials or information gleaned from college fairs.
The report suggests that higher education institutions trying to target this population consider marketing and research, such as focus groups and surveys, to ensure their information is reaching and is understood by low-income and first-generation students.
These students are looking for resources to help them finish college applications and identify mentoring programs; information on graduation, retention and transfer rates by race/ethnicity; and they need to be reached with information about the importance of a college degree, starting with children in the seventh grade.
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