Politics & College Selection - an Update

Politics & College Selection - an Update
Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

It turns out, we were right. Sorry, Scott.

Last August, in response to a discussion on the Vox Media podcast, Pivot, between co-hosts Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway about the salience about state level abortion bans, we conducted a small survey of young people either evaluating which colleges to apply to; in the process of selecting a school from those they applied to; or evaluating whether to transfer from their existing school. We wanted to know if Scott was right – that how good the football team is would be more important to college bound kids than the availability and access to reproductive healthcare.

We found he was wrong. But we weren't alone. 

  • A study conducted by the Arts & Science group among about 700 high school students intending to enroll this fall in a 4-year college or university found that 25% would reject a school based on "politics, polices or the legal situation in the state where the school was located." Liberal and conservative high school students, it turns out, are about equally likely to reject a school based on politics, by the way, but perhaps because the laws in question tend to run in favor of conservative preferences, and most young conservatives are not yet extremely conservative about policies like LGBTQ+ rights or abortion, liberals do tend to feel more strongly about it. What's worrying is that the list of states those liberal students would avoid is far longer than the list of states conservatives (14 states including Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Lousiana) would avoid (just New York and California). 
  • Earlier, around the time the Dobbs decision was leaked but before the decision was official, Gallup and Lumina had already found that nearly three-quarters of currently enrolled students (76% of currently enrolled women) said reproductive rights rollbacks were at least somewhat important in their decision about whether to remain enrolled in their current institutions.

In other words, what we were seeing last August was not a suddenly new phenomenon. People already consider reproductive rights and access to care in their enrollment decisions.

So we knew what people said. The question was, would what they said they cared about show up in what they did.

Spoiler alert: at least some of those people weren't kidding.

A recent look at 71 of the top 100 universities in America (according to the often questionable US News rankings) by researchers at Tulane and Portland State University found a one percent drop in applications by women to schools in states with full or partial bans on abortion. Here's a link to the PDF of the findings.

The study isn't comprehensive, and the data the researchers have access to is limited (we don't know much more than gender when it comes to the identities of the applicants). They looked only at about 71 schools in 21 states because they focused on the top 100 ranked schools.

The authors of the study point out that that the top 50 schools, which typically accept less than 20% of their applicants, and schools with more out-of-state applicants, drive the results that they see. The types of students applying to the top 50 schools tend to have the most choice about where to attend; students who are applying out of state select their schools at least in part because they have a 50/50 chance of continuing to live and work near their alma mater after graduation.

If they were to look at a larger set of schools in all 50 states, they might observe a more or less pronounced effect, and also understand more about the roles of selectivity and the ratio of out-of-state applicants in creating this effect.

But the bottom line is this: When it comes to deciding where students apply to colleges, it's not just a school selection – it's a lifestyle selection. Students with choices – especially women – will take these policies into account before applying to a school. It'll be interesting to see if – and how – the trend continues in a world in which Dobbs is in full effect in states with abortion bans or restrictions. 

I know it's fun to be a pundit - but it's even more fun to have evidence.