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For Many, Economy Shelves College Plans

This story was written by Ricky Flynn, Massachusetts Daily Collegian

With the economy on a downward slide, many of the best and brightest college-eligible students in the country have decided to forgo attending universities for various reasons, such as financial inability, declining financial aid availability and the emergence of online courses.

In a recent study composed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and the Education Resources Institute, about 1,800 high school graduates who don't attend college were asked various questions as to the factors that lead them to forgo a college education.

Of the 1,800 students surveyed who don't attend college, 1,000 didn't even enroll in college. Of the population who didn't enroll in college, 48 percent was made up of various minority groups such as African American, American Indian, Hispanic and Asian; many from low income families. Only 32 percent of those surveyed who don't attend college chose to visit a college during high school and only 10 percent took the SAT test.

According to the IHEP, an individual who is "college qualified" is one who has earned at least a 2.5 high school grade-point average, taken a "college-preparatory curriculum" such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and taken some advanced level of mathematics. However, many of the polled students were well above the minimum standards considered to qualify for college. Half of the students had a GPA of 3.0 or above and about 60 percent had participated in a pre-calculus, calculus or trigonometry class.

President and CEO of the private loan guarantor TERI Willis J. Hulings, III stated the data for the survey was pulled before the "credit crunch" and anticipates greater difficulty for those who view loans as a barrier to college education.

"In this case, if you look at low-income families in particular, I believe you may have some who have experienced a relative who had difficulty with a credit card or had a card repossessed," said Hulings. "Some folks may be culturally averse to debt. They may not believe in using debt for anything and working on a kind-of cash."

Michelle Cooper, President of IHEP, believes that financial issues are what deter most applicable students from attending college.

"All individuals should be given the opportunity to reach their full educational potential. We should have high expectations of all our students, no matter where they came from. We can't afford to lose millions of students in the pipeline just because they are financially needy. As a society, we assume people who don't have money have less potential. We don't believe that at IHEP," stated Cooper.

Some schools are taking steps to make going to college more affordable for students. Georgia's Hope Scholarship Program guarantees a student full tuition to a state college for a specific number of credit hours if they graduate with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Indiana's Twenty-first Century Scholars Program pays four years of tuition at a public state institution for low-income students who maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0.

Along with financial inability, another reason students are not going to college is the increasing popularity and availability of online education.

In a survey conducted in the fall of 2007, the amount of students enrolled in at least one online course rose 12.9 percent from 3.43 million in 2006 to 3.94 million students in 2007. "Clearly there will be a limit on the growth of online enrollments. However, the current data shows that this limit has not yet been reached, as double-digit growth rates continue for yet another year," stated the report conducted by the Sloan Consortium, an organization that conducts an annual survey to track online learning trends.

The study "Staying the Course: Onlie Education in the United States, 2008," conducted by the College Board and Babson College had over 2,500 responses, a response rate of 57.4 percent.

"I'm continually surprised that the growth doesn't seem to slow down or stop," said the report's co-author and co-director Jeff Seaman.

According to Seaman, most academic leaders believe the relationship between higher enrollments and economic troubles is carrying over into online education.

The study found that of the universities polled, 70 percent of two-year colleges felt online education is "critical," whereas only 35.4 percent of four-year colleges felt online education is "critical." Since the fall of 2002, the percentage of higher education institutions that agreed online education is "critical" steadily decreased between 2002 and 2005, after which leveled off.

With online education growing in popularity, the creation of competition is inevitable. The rise in competition has allowed students to sign up for online classes not only at their own institutions, but at schools around the world.

According to the report, "As discussed elsewhere, this competition may be leading schools to increase their geographic reach and to concentrate on non-degree, non-traditional students."

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