College Decision Making

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College Decision Making Journey

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics' latest findings it was found that 69.1 percent of 2018 high school graduates age 16 to 24 were enrolled in colleges or universities. The typical customer journey US students take when trying to choose a post-secondary education program can be divided into three significant phases which are Predisposition stage, Search stage and Choice Stage.






  • The top 5 resources or sources used are college website (47%), online search engines (37%), visiting to college campus (19%), high school guidance councilor (14%), and college brochures and friends (12% each).
  • As per the latest data from 2016, 70% or more of students use Instagram to gather information when researching colleges. This is increased from 2013 when only 28% of students used this app for their college research.
  • Additionally, approximately 68% of U.S. students visited the Facebook pages of colleges they were interested in.


  • 63% of U.S. students consider the costs of attending college, counting it as the most important factor in deciding upon a specific college.
  • 50% of students stated that the availability of financial aid had an impact on their decision-making.
  • More than 50% of students in the United States made their decision on enrolling in a specific college based on majors and programs offered by the school.
  • 20% of students stated that their college campus visits had an impact on their final decision on attending a specific college.

Differences Between Students Considering 2-Year Degree Programs Versus 4-Year Universities

  • It was found from a study conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that students aspiring to earn a bachelor degree who choose to attend a four-year college have a higher graduation rate than those who start at a community college.
  • As several junior colleges cost less than $2,000 each semester to attend full time, attending community college is often seen as an avenue to get oneself ready for the financial demands of a 4-year university if the students plan on transferring.
  • Other reasons students often value community college over a 4-year university degree are academic flexibility, school-life balance), STEM education and opportunities, transfer agreements, elements of traditional college, personalized attention, professional certificates, and the availability of online class options.
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Community College Influencers

The biggest influencers for US students who choose to attend a community college are cost, academic flexibility, transfer agreements, smaller class sizes, easier transition, “hands-on” experience, and STEM education opportunities.


  • The total average tuition and fees for a full-time student at a public two-year institution in 2018-2019 was $3,660, compared with $10,230 at public four-year colleges. However, the average net price was -$400, meaning that grants and tax benefits covered tuition and fees, plus a portion of other expenses for the average full-time community college student.
  • According to the 2015–2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, after accounting for grants (but not tax credits), 44% of full-time community college students paid no tuition or received money to cover other expenses. About 14% pay less than $1,100, and about 14% pay more than $3,400.
  • 36% of community college students take out at least some loans (24% borrowed less than $13,500 and 12% borrowed more than $13,500) compared to 60% of students at public four-year institutions and 82% of students at for-profits.
  • Among students who graduated with an associate's degree from a public two-year college, 59% took no student loans, 30% had less than $20,000 in loans, and around 13% had more than $20,000 in loans. A smaller percentage of community college graduates took out more loans than four-year graduates or for-profit graduates.

  • Population of community college break down by income:
    • Overall

      • Less than $20,000: 37%
      • $20,000 to $49,999: 30%
      • $50,000+: 33%

      Dependent Students

      • Less than $20,000: 23%
      • $20,000 to $49,999: 28%
      • $50,000+: 49%

      Independent Students

      • Less than $20,000: 47%
      • $20,000 to $49,999: 31%
      • $50,000+: 22%


    • Basic classes taken by every freshman are cheaper at community colleges. Community colleges typically charge $45 to $250 per credit hour, while universities usually charge $400 to $600 or more per credit hour.
    • Attending community colleges for two years enables students to get their basic classes out of the way while saving a significant amount of money, which will then reduce the amount of money they’ll have to borrow if and when they transfer to a four-year school.
    • Community colleges offer different types of educational programs such as associate's degrees, skilled trade degrees, vocational certificates, and transferable credits to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Because of that, an associate's degree through a community college gives students much more flexibility in their decisions.
    • About 80% of community college students work, with 39% working full-time.
    • Researchers at North Carolina surveyed 6,000 community college students and discovered that the top challenge to their academic success is work (34%), with 61% saying the number of hours they worked didn’t leave enough time to study.
    • Of the students surveyed, about 60% attend college full-time and 40% part-time. Nationally, about 64% of community college students attend part-time.
    • Community colleges offer more night and weekend classes than four-year schools and more options for a flexible schedule.


    • Community colleges usually have transfer agreements with different universities for baccalaureate programs.
    • Some state laws have been passed mandating how courses taken at public two-year institutions must count toward degree requirements at public four-year institutions within that state.
    • According to College Transfer, "most transfer articulation agreements are between institutions within a particular geographic area or between the public community and four-year colleges within a state system of higher education."
    • According to the NY Times, Princeton will join a growing group of selective colleges that are focusing more on transfer students. "The initiative is directed at attracting more low-income students, but middle-class ones are also likely to see benefits."
    • The same publication also mentions that while many community colleges have clearly marked pathways to graduation and transfer agreements with highly prestigious four-year schools, not all do. And some students discover that the two years of classes they took need to be retaken when they transfer to a four-year school.
    • According to Study USA, "many university advisers recommend that students attend community college 'college transfer' programs first, and then transfer to universities for the final two years. For example, students studying at Santa Monica College, a community college, have transferred to UCLA upon receiving their two-year transfer degree."


    • Yahoo! Finance reports that "many community colleges offer smaller class sizes than larger schools, meaning students can find more personal attention and one-on-one time with instructors."
    • According to the University of Hawaii Community Colleges website, "community college classes are small, averaging 35 students per class, which allows for more interaction between students and instructors."
    • Some students pointed out the fact that community college teachers are more engaged with students due to smaller class sizes and are more focused on teaching than research since few community college professors do outside research.
    • Study USA reports that "many U.S. and international students say that attending smaller schools for the first two years helped them make a good transition into larger four-year schools for the final two years."



    • A combination of academic rigor, hands-on learning, and career-focused opportunities can lead to internships that evolve into employment after graduation.
    • Faculty at community colleges usually have significant work experience and are experienced professionals that can offer practical insights and perspectives on the subjects they teach.


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    Higher Education Perceptions

    While there was no preexisting information on how the students in the Dallas — Fort Worth, Texas area feel about higher education, we have used the available data to provide helpful insights that would help in the research. Our research showed that in Dallas, about 20% of the students are enrolled in an undergraduate program, and 5% are enrolled in a graduate/professional program. Also, we found that Gen Zs are highly focused on education, and 65.7% of them plan to study in In-State school to reduce tuition costs.



    • According to a 2018 American Community Survey, the highest levels of education obtained by people in Dallas between the ages of 18-24 were: graduate/professional degree (1.3%), bachelor's degree (12.4%), associate's degree (3.1%), some college but no degree (33.2%), high school diploma/GED (31.1%), 9th-12th grade (no diploma) (15.2%), and less than 9th grade (3.6%).
    • The school dropout rate of Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area, is 15%.
    • Currently, in Dallas, 20% of the students are enrolled in an undergraduate program, and 5% are enrolled in a graduate/professional program.


    • The report of a survey carried out at the University of Texas, Dallas FY shows that about 51 % of students completed their graduation in 4 years, and this reached to 70.6% in a 6-year timeline from enrollment and further reached 72.9% by 2017.
    • This shows the inclination of students continuing their higher education in Dallas areas, whereas the national graduation rate is just 49.2% after 8-year timeline from enrollment.


    • Gen Z are highly focused on education, and 65.7% of them plan to study in In-State school to reduce tuition costs.
    • Gen Z are prioritizing savings for attaining higher education by cutting down expenses like dining out, driving in own vehicles and others. 9.4% of Gen Z had saved around more than $5,000 for their college fee.
    • 80% of Gen Z noted that College education has excellent value in their life, and around only 25% feel that going to college doesn’t fetch any rewarding career.
    • As per the Branes and Noble college survey, 89% of Gen Z feel that college education is most valuable.
    • 82% of Gen Z between 16-18 years of age stated that they plan to go to college after high school, 77% consider joining a 4-year course or joining university, 39% states that they would join community college and 22% are interested in joining tech/trade school.


    • Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board compiles data on high school graduates each year across Dallas but does not provide detail on student's perceptions of higher education in Dallas.

    Research Strategy:

    We commenced our research by first looking for the information on student's perceptions of higher education in Dallas — Fort Worth in various databases like Researchgate, NCBI, Dineoncampus, Student affairs, Dallas Observer, among others. We hoped to find surveys and other research publication on students' perception of higher education in Dallas area. However, most of the information we found was on student programs and stats around education attainment. Next, we tried to garner insights on graduation rate, dropout rate and retention rate, and their reasons from various university reports across Dallas. We were able to locate some, but the information we gathered did not provide insights around the perceptions of students about higher education.
    Furthermore, we tried to look for Gen Z perspectives on higher education in Dallas as this age group is a close match of ages 16-24 as requested. We looked through media sites, educational blog sites, academic journals, among others. We were able to find some information on the Gen Z perspective, but this was not specific to the Dallas area.
    Finally, we expanded the scope of the search to Texas and further to the entire US. We searched through sources like Neilson, Pew research, Mckinsey, US census, American Fact Finder, Education USA, among others. We could not find information on students' perceptions of higher education; instead, most of the information we found was on the number of high school graduates each year across the Dallas area, Texas, or the US. Since all effort to gather information to answer the question fully failed, we have presented the useful data we found during the research as helpful findings in the section above.

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    From Part 01
    • "In the recent years there has been a growth in social media use among students when researching colleges. As of 2016, more than 70 percent used Instagram to gather information, which is a notable increase in comparison to 2013, when only 28 percent of students used the app for their college research. About 68 percent of U.S. students also visited Facebook pages of colleges they had particular interest in. "
    • "Despite the increasing popularity and usage of social media among students, many U.S. colleges are not concentrating much on these platforms. In 2015, only 38 percent of higher education institutions found social media essential to recruit first-time freshmen."
    • " In contrast to this, more than 77 percent of colleges thought that hosting campus visits was crucial to their recruitment tactics; moreover, about 97 percent of public four-year colleges and universities used campus visit days for high schools to recruit new students. At the same time, only 20 percent of students stated that college campus visits had an impact on their final decision on attending a specific college in 2015. "
    • "When it comes to the final decision of attending a specific college, there are many factors that influence student choice; however, most of them are financially related. In 2015, about 63 percent of the U.S. students considered the costs of attaining education as the most important factor in deciding upon a specific college."
    • "Furthermore, almost 50 percent of students stated that the availability of financial aid had an impact on their decision-making. More than half of students in the United States based their decision on a specific college on offered majors and programs. Unsurprisingly, about 93 percent of Pell Grant receiving students favored a specific college due to offered financial assistance, and 88 percent mentioned that their decision was influenced by the costs of attending particular college. "
    • "Community college can be a more affordable and less time-consuming way for students to earn a degree. In 2016 about 5.8 million students were enrolled in public 2-year postsecondary institutions across the U.S. In 2016, the most popular field of study was liberal arts and sciences. About 381,197 associate degrees awarded at community colleges were in this field of study, and it made up one third of all attained degrees"
    • "Community colleges received attention in 2015 after President Barack Obama proposed to make community college tuition free to many residents of the US. For many individuals, community colleges offer the only opportunity for a college education. Tuition rates of public community colleges are significantly lower than for-profit colleges. In 2017, at private for-profit 2-year institutions, tuition costs totaled 14,397 U.S. dollars on average, while in public 2-year institution the tuition costs were estimated to be 3,156 U.S. dollars on average. "
    • "In October 2018, 69.1 percent of 2018 high school graduates age 16 to 24 were enrolled in colleges or universities, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today."
    • "Among recent high school graduates age 16 to 24, college enrollment rates for men and women were 66.9 percent and 71.3 percent, respectively."
    • "People often make choices that do not serve their interests as well as they might wish, particularly if they are students who are faced with many choices but do not have adequate information. "
    • "Secondly, the incidence of those suboptimal choices is not random but is socially stratified. It is higher for less advantaged people, and societal factors – such as the unequal distribution of economic resources, unequal provision of good information, and unequal exposure to discrimination -- play a crucial role in producing those socially stratified suboptimal choices."
    • "Finally, the provision of many choices legitimates social inequality. The more one thinks in terms of choices the more one tends to blame the unfortunate, including oneself, for their circumstances. Seemingly offered many choices in life, both the winners and losers in society come to feel that much of the inequality they experience is due to their own actions and therefore is legitimate."
    • "Here are 10 reasons to attend community college: Affordability Academic flexibility Financial aid options School-life balance STEM education and opportunities Transfer agreements Elements of traditional college Personalized attention Professional certificates Online class options"
    • "The college selection process for traditional-age students is often described as a three-stage process. The first stage is predisposition, which refers to the development of formal educational plans after high school. The second step is the search stage: the process of gathering information about colleges and universities as well as developing a list of colleges or universities to seriously consider. The final stage is called choice and refers to the final decision regarding which institution to attend."
    • "The most important factor that influences the decisions of students is extent to which parents consistently encourage their children to continue their formal education after high school. In addition, for children of parents who have attended college there is an increased likelihood of college or university attendance after high school graduation. High school students who earn better grades and who have friends who are planning to attend a college or university are also more likely to aspire to continue their formal education after they graduate. Finally, community norms and values also influence the development of postsecondary educational aspirations. Some communities value education more than others and these values are transmitted in subtle and complex ways to youth."
    • "The search stage involves two simultaneous processes. One of these processes involves students learning more about the characteristics of different types of colleges and universities. The other part of this phase involves learning more about which specific institutions to seriously consider attending. Most students who are college bound enter the search stage during their junior year in high school. Some students start earlier and some wait until their senior year. This stage of the college decision-making process is complex. "
    • "Not surprisingly, the students who spend more time investigating college options are more certain and confident about their deliberations during the search stage. Students from more affluent families and who earn better grades spend more time searching for college alternatives. It is also true, however, that students who earn better grades and who have parents who attended college are less certain about the kind of college or university they will eventually attend–more choices can create more uncertainty."
    • "Most traditional-age students complete their choice stage during their senior year in high school. Typically seniors make their matriculation decisions in the spring or early summer. Making the final decision tends to bring a good deal more realism into the decision-making process. Students frequently drop more expensive, more distant, or more selective schools from their list. During the choice stage, peers and teachers, rather than parents, exert greater influence on the decisions of students. High school students who have consistently planned to attend college over long periods of time are more likely to follow through on their plans. Increased parental education, greater family income, and higher student grades increase the probabilities that high school graduates will attend colleges and universities that are more expensive, selective, and farther from home."
    • "In addition, the marketing tactics of colleges and universities also have an influence on both the search and the choice stages. Colleges and universities that are more timely and personalized in all of their interactions with prospective students are more likely to exert a positive influence upon enrollment decisions."
    • "One recent survey found that the majority of families considered financial aid to be a very important factor in deciding where to attend college and that this decision largely came down to dollars and cents."
    • "A sensitive but important contributor to low baccalaureate completion rates is that even after controlling for differences in precollege levels of academic preparation, students aspiring to earn a baccalaureate degree who choose to attend a four-year college have much higher graduation rates than those who choose to start at a community college."
    • "Where can I get the information to compare and pick a college? Here are some resources you can use to get information about the factors listed above for the colleges you are interested in: US News & World Report - College Guide College Board - College Matchmaker College Navigator - sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics The Education Trust - College Results Online"
    • "The most obvious reason that students attend community college is for the financial advantage. Many junior colleges cost less than two thousand dollars each semester to attend full time. Attending community college gives students the chance to prepare for the financial demands of a 4-year university if they plan on transferring."
    • "Community colleges often are an important and relatively inexpensive gateway for students entering higher education. Associate’s degrees, largely offered by 2-year programs at community colleges, are the terminal degree for some, but others continue their education at 4-year colleges or universities and subsequently earn higher degrees. About 19% of recent S&E bachelor’s degree holders—those who had earned their degree between academic years 2008–09 and 2012–13—had previously earned an associate’s degree.Many who transfer to baccalaureate-granting institutions do not earn associate’s degrees before transferring; they may be able to transfer credit for specific courses.​"
    From Part 02
    • "In fall 2017, 5.8 million students were enrolled in public, two-year colleges. About 2.1 million were full-time students, and 3.7 million were part-time. About 6.1 million were enrolled in all types of two-year colleges."
    • "The rate of Pell receipt for community college students has fallen in recent years from 38 percent in 2011–12 to 33.5 percent in 2015–16. Even though community colleges have a much higher proportion of low-income students than other higher education sectors, their students' rate of Pell receipt is lower than at public four-year colleges and at private nonprofit four-year colleges."
    • "Sampled in 2015–16, 36 percent of all community college students had taken out at least some loans, similar to the percentage in 2011–12 but up from 30 percent in 2007–08. Twenty-four percent had borrowed less than $13,500, and 12 percent had borrowed more than $13,500. Both the rate of borrowing and the amount borrowed are far lower than in other sectors. For example, 60 percent of students at public four-year institutions and 82 percent of students at for-profits borrowed."
    From Part 03
    • "With a four year graduation rate of 51.0%, first-time students in the UT Dallas class of 2013 who attended classes full-time were more likely than average to graduate on time. After six years, the graduation rate was 70.6% and by 2017, 72.9% of this class had completed their degree."
    • "Nationwide, the average graduation rate for first-time undergraduates attending classes full-time is: 33.4% after four years, 47.6% after six years, and 49.2% after eight years."
    • "Generation Z is willing to prioritize paying for college over certain qualities of life. Moving out of their family’s home, driving their own car and dining out are among the top expenses that they are willing to sacrifice."
    • "Despite growing questions around the value of college and return on investment in tuition, just 25 percent of Generation Z students say they believe they can have a rewarding career without going to college"
    • "Eighty percent of Generation Z respondents and 74 percent of millennials agree that college either has a fair amount of value, is a good value, or is an excellent value."
    • "By a margin of more than 20 percent, Generation Z respondents are more likely to say they want to make it to the top of their future profession one day "
    • "89% rated a college education as valuable"