Data shows where students live impacts whether they go to college, but Texas Tech is trying to change that
- Notre Dame economist Abigail Wozniak said a student's geographic location is an important factor in not just where a student will go to college, but whether that student goes on to college.
- According to research, 56.2% of students attending public four-year colleges stay within an hour of home, and 70% stay within two hours, a trend that Wozniak partially attributes to declining geographic migration overall.
- For the one in six high school students who live in areas without a university nearby, this trend is likely to mean the students won't attend college, Wozniak argues. When California's two public systems added new colleges between 1995-2005, data revealed enrollment in those four new campuses was largely from students in high schools within 25 miles of the institutions, while the other system campuses remained unchanged.
During a recent visit to Education Dive's offices, Texas Tech University president Lawrence Schovanec talked about his intentional efforts to recruit from the rural areas around the Lubbock, Texas campus, realizing that most of the university's student population came from more than 300 miles away — only 12% of the freshman class was from within 100 miles, though 100 miles is the median distance most students across the country travel for college.
Citing his concern that "students in our backyard were not coming to Texas Tech, which he said left a character deficiency on his West Texas campus, Schovanec set out to recruit more local students.
"It’s really more of a selfish motivation," he said. "I was thinking more that we want you here because you have an important part of the culture of tech." For example, West Texans, he said, "have an incredible work ethic, they have an endearing humility and a real sense of pride and ambition, and that’s all part of the West Texas experience."
"I was struck by how many were first generation," he said, "and then when I would talk to those students, some that lived 20 miles from Lubbock, they had never been on campus." Schovanec grew up on a farm with 11 siblings, and of the 12 of them, 11 would get college degrees, he said, noting, "I understand rural culture." That understanding allows him to connect with and offer encouragement to students who might otherwise stay away.
However, cost is still a factor for many students. Schovanec lamented the fact that across the country, more merit scholarships are being given than need-based aid, which he said is "probably driven by the rankings systems" and the need for institutions to present an air of prestige with selective admissions requirements.
To him, however, "there will be serious financial implications for our state if we don’t meet our moral and social obligations to serve more students in our state," and that includes targeting spending toward retention efforts.
Many institutions, he said, "spend a lot more money to get them in," but don't have funds to support the whole student once they arrive on campus, which leads to dropping out or transferring to a seemingly more affordable option. But Schovanec is proud of the institution's record first-, second- and third-year retention rates that Texas Tech posted last year, and attributes much of the success to "very intrusive and proactive advising."
First-generation student retention rates hover around 79% — 5% lower than the total population, but still higher than the roughly 63% national average.
Follow Autumn A. Arnett on Twitter