Examining Finances and Family in Students’ Decisions about College

With financial support from the Education Writers Association, Texas Public Radio (TPR) sponsored the Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Texas A&M University-College Station to serve as a key partner in administering an anonymous web-based college student survey. Entitled the College Access Survey, this online survey was sent to the educational emails of students enrolled in a San Antonio area public institution of higher education within the last two years. Overall, 2,600 students participated in the survey with over half of respondents identifying as Hispanic.

Broadly, the survey was used to gather data on two overarching factors – finances and family. These factors are reported to be very important in Latino student decision-making about college. Administered during the Spring 2021 Semester, the survey also asked about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational progress.

The goal of TPR’s survey is to explore the challenges identified by students which make it difficult to maintain enrollment and complete their degrees. The TPR and PPRI anticipate this survey will increase understanding regarding the effects of several socio-economic obstacles contributing to racial and ethnic disparities in higher education in the San Antonio area, particularly among Latino students.

These obstacles include:

  • food security (as related largely to the COVID Pandemic)
  • debt (as reluctance to incur student loan debt)
  • housing
  • employment
  • family support
  • family obligations

Further, by understanding impediments to earning a college degree, the keys to success for improving graduation rates among these students become more obvious. Additionally, this better understanding provides helpful information regarding available assistance and resources; encourages increased cooperative action by local, regional, and national stakeholders; raises awareness, and spurs much-needed action including possibly redefining success among this student population.

Well-positioned to design research for addressing specific needs of local communities, PPRI effectively administers hundreds of thousands of phone, mail, online, and in-person survey interviews each year. The institute is a leading social policy research organization, providing scientific and evaluative services to the Texas legislature and to various federal, regional, state, and community agencies actively engaged in determining public policy. Since its inception in 1983, PPRI has secured external research contracts totaling $140 million in the areas of education, criminal justice, public health and mental health, substance abuse, workforce and employment, and aging and disabilities.

Findings from TPR’s College Access Survey have thus far been well received by the public.  To access the first of a multi-part story series on this survey and its findings, go to: https://www.tpr.org/education/2021-04-29/why-hasnt-san-antonio-closed-its-latino-college-gap .