Geography Continues to Matter in College Enrollment Decisions

For many students, where they go to college depends largely on where they live, according to a study commissioned by the American Council on Education.

Nearly six in ten income freshmen attend public four-year colleges within 50 miles of their permanent home, the study found. Additionally, the farther students live from any particular college, the less likely they are to enroll.

"The zip code that a child is born into oftentimes determines their life chances," Nick Hillman, an author of the study and assistant professor of education leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told Inside Higher Ed. "Place matters because it reinforces existing inequalities."

At public four-year colleges, the median distance students live from home is 18 miles. That number is 46 miles for private nonprofit four-year colleges, and only eight miles at public two-year colleges.

Despite the current dialogue about the importance of college choice, approximately 13 percent of students remain stuck in "education deserts." Such areas have just one community college or no broadly accessible public institutions at all located nearby. From this vantage point, college choice may be less a function of students' "college knowledge" and more a function of proximity and place. For place-bound students, many postsecondary choices are made according to proximity to home and work, making it all the more important to know how geographic opportunity structures vary across the nation, according to the report.


Related Links

Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of "Place" in the Twenty-First Century

Inside Higher Ed