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Report: 1 in 4 prospective college students ruling out some states due to political climate


Report: 1 in 4 prospective college students ruling out some states due to political climate

Mar 28, 2023 | 10:30 am ET
By Joe Killian
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Report: 1 in 4 prospective college students ruling out some states due to political climate

The impact of politics on colleges and universities across the country isn’t just making headlines. It’s also driving prospective colleges students away from certain states, a new study released Monday suggests.

One in four high school seniors reported they ruled out certain campuses based on the politics, policies or unfolding legal situations in certain states, according to polling from the Art & Science Group, a consulting firm specializing in higher education.

The findings held true across the political spectrum, with self-identified liberal students (31 percent), conservative students (28 percent) and moderates (22 percent) all reporting they avoided certain states.

Report: 1 in 4 prospective college students ruling out some states due to political climate

“Possibly the most interesting subgroup difference is the lack of a difference,” the report on the study reads. “In our research, students who identify as conservatives are about as likely to reject an institution on politically charged grounds overall as are students who classify themselves as liberals. Indeed, for those intent on generationally derived behavioral explanations, our study suggests that ‘snowflake’ students may exist on both the conservative and liberal sides of the aisle, with the phenomenon of ruling out an institution being cited by around 30% of both liberals and conservatives.”

The study’s authors note that their polling was fielded this winter, before the biggest political conflicts in higher education erupted in Florida, Texas and Ohio.

The states most likely to be ruled out by students: Alabama (38 percent), Texas (29 percent), Louisiana and Florida (both 21 percent).

Students who identified as liberal-leaning said they were more likely to rule out schools in the South or Midwest while conservative-leaning students said they were more likely to rule out New York and California.

Far more conservative students (32 percent) said they were likely to rule out schools in their home state, a finding the study’s authors said may be explained by New York and California being two of the nation’s most populated states.

“Perhaps reflecting the drift toward broad political polarization in the U.S. (and elsewhere), we found that students’ gender, race, household income, or region of residence did not arise as statistically significant predictors marking student comfort levels around attending a school in a state they perceive as having an undesirable political landscape,” the report on the study reads. “In fact, few indicators of material difference arose to provide significant distinctions regarding which subgroups of students might be likely to eliminate a school based on political considerations.”

There were two apparent exceptions.

With a series of laws targeting LGBTQ people being introduced and passing in conservative states, students who identified as LGBTQ were substantially more likely (32 percent) to avoid certain states due to the political climate than straight students (21 percent).

Report: 1 in 4 prospective college students ruling out some states due to political climate
Students who were not the first generation in their family to attend college were also somewhat more likely (26 percent) to avoid certain states due to the political climate than those who are first-generation (19 percent).

While both conservative and liberal students were likely to call the states they ruled out “too Republican” or “too Democratic,” the specific issues they cited diverged. Liberal students were most likely to cite conservative laws or policies around abortion, guns, LGBTQ laws, racial equity and focus on mental health support. Conservative students most often cited LGBTQ related laws as too liberal, to complain “conservative voices are squashed” and to say the laws around abortion and reproductive rights were too liberal in the states they ruled out.

About one-third of both liberal-learning and conservative-leaning students said they were worried voices like theirs would be repressed in certain states.

According to info on methodology, respondents were more white and higher-income than the college-going population in general.

The poll, fielded in January and February of this year, reflects completed interviews with 1,865 U.S. high school seniors, 778 of whom said they intended to attend a four year institution as a full time student in the coming Fall. The respondents were 62 percent female and 62 percent white. The average reported household income of respondents was around $93,000. The responses were weighted by income, race, region and gender in order to have the findings represent the larger domestic college-going population. The margin of error for the student population was 3.5 percent.

The study’s authors concluded colleges and universities nation-wide should pay attention to these findings, particularly as they face tough headwinds for enrollment in the next few years.

“With political polarization on the rise, and all regions set to see declines in the number of high school graduates in coming years, lawmakers and campus administrators would do well to take student convictions into account as political change-making continues to infiltrate campus life,” the report reads. “And importantly, as the regional student markets shift, institutions will likely need to pay particular attention to their individual and distinctive positioning in order to attract students in their market despite challenges posed by state social policies.”

As Policy Watch first reported, the GOP dominated N.C. General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations requested documents related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) training programs through the UNC System and all of its 17 campuses.

The request, according to a letter from Derrick Welch, director of Senate Majority Staff Government Operations, is part of the commission’s “inquiry into university employee training programs administered through the UNC System or its member universities.”

The system has until Tuesday to get the information to the commission.

The move comes amid a national conservative backlash to the idea of DEI in everything from books and instruction to training and office culture that has produced near-identical bills in a number of states patterned on model legislation from conservative activists and think tanks.