I was surprised by data on the enrollment migration of high school graduates who enter four-year colleges immediately or shortly after graduation from high school. As the chart below shows, in most states, a very high percentage of students enrolling in four-year colleges enroll in a school in their home state.
This would not be unexpected if it were data from 1920 but a lot has changed in the world that should exert a fairly strong influence on the enrollment decisions of high school graduates. First, anything that reduces the time, cost, or difficulty in travel should contribute to an increase in the willingness of students to travel further to attend college. The real cost of travel (measured as dollar per airline mile) has fallen dramatically over the past several decades. In addition, the increased ability to communicate over longer distances and at ever lower prices should also reduce disincentives to enrollment over distances. Perhaps even more importantly, the information available to students and their parents about schools (including video tours, rankings, and all types of detailed data), should also reduce the barrier of distance from home to enrollment in a college. In addition, colleges have more information about students and an increasing ability to target potential students irrespective of their distance from campus. States with a low percentage of students enrolling in a college in their homes state (NH, VT, CT, MD, DE) all have many college choices in nearby states so many of the barriers that might influence enrollment distance don’t really apply.
We in NH fret a lot about the percentage of students who choose to enroll in an out-of-state college, but almost 90 percent of NH grads enrolling in a four-year institution enroll in a college in New England and on balance we are a slight “net-importer” of college enrollees. There are tremendous economic and public policy implications related to the supply of young college graduates but we need to be careful that in analyzing the issues we use appropriate metrics. I am not convinced that in NH’s case, the percentage of students enrolling in-state is a good one.
I need to look at a time series of this data to get a better handle on some of the contributing factors to these data. For now the only conclusion I can draw is that college-age children simply care too much about their families to want to venture far from home – at least that is want I have wanted to believe for the past several years.