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To the Editors of American Demographics:

I am trying to find the selection criteria that Hispanic youth use to decide which college to attend. I also want to find out the same information for African Americans and Asians. Thanks for your help!

Mark B. Hurt

Texas A&M University

Dear Mark:

There are a couple of sources you might find helpful to learn about the selection criteria used by Americas college-bound youngsters.

First, try the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles. Every year since 1966, HERI has conducted the American Freshman survey, a nationally representative poll of first-year students at public and private four-year colleges and universities across the country. Another source to consider is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which conducts the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a nationally representative survey of students enrolled in a wide variety of postsecondary institutions, ranging from four-year colleges and universities to less-than-two-year vocational institutions. Both studies include questions about the factors that affect students in deciding which school to attend after high school, and both enable you to cross-tab data by the race and ethnicity of the respondents.

Linda Sax, a professor of education at UCLA and the director of the American Freshman study for the past seven years, says that students of all races and ethnicities agree that the most important factor to consider when selecting a four-year college is its academic reputation. Slightly more than half of whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics assert that academic reputation is very important.

When it comes to other selection criteria, Sax points out that black and Hispanic students differ significantly from Asians and whites. For instance, 48 percent of black students and 45 percent of Hispanics say they consider financial aid offers very important, compared with 32 percent of white as well as Asian students. Black and Hispanic students are also more concerned about the availability of special education programs. Only 19 percent of white students, and 24 percent of Asians, consider special education to be an important factor when selecting a college or university, as opposed to 29 percent of Hispanics and a third of blacks who say the same.

Minority students are far more likely to place greater emphasis on the availability of information from the Internet. The American Freshman survey found that 18 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Hispanics and 14 percent of Asians say that the information they obtained online was very important in influencing their decision. Just 10 percent of white students hold that view.

The NCES study, conducted in 1995 and 1996 (the most recent year for which published data is available), shows that the criteria used in selecting a school often correlates to the type of school a student attends. For example, blacks who attend a public four-year college are less likely than whites and Hispanics to cite cost as a factor in selecting their school. On the other hand, black students at private four-year universities are the most likely to say that cost was a determining factor.


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