One in four college-bound students say they ruled out a school due to its state’s political climate

One in four (24%) college-bound high-school seniors said they have ruled out colleges they might have otherwise considered due to the politics, policies, or legal situations in the state where the school is located, according to a survey by the Art & Science Group, a higher education consulting firm, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. This behavior was statistically true for students across the political spectrum. However, the survey found that students who identify as LGBTQ+ rejected institutions based on political considerations at a higher rate (32%) than students who identified as straight (21%).

The survey was conducted between January and February 2023, reflecting data gleaned from interviews with 1,865 high school seniors, 778 of whom said they planned to attend a four-year college as a full-time student this fall. Notably, the interviews were fielded before states like Florida, Texas, and Ohio received their “most notable headlines” for their legislative agendas, the survey analysis says.

Issues shaping students’ options

Students who classified themselves as liberal were statistically as likely to reject a school based on political perceptions and policies as conservative-leaning students (31% and 28%, respectively.) A smaller but significant share of politically moderate students (22%) also said they rejected schools based on the surrounding political environment.

While conservative students more often said they would rule out colleges in California and New York, liberal-leaning students were more likely to report eliminating schools in Southern or Midwestern states, including Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

The study found that liberal-leaning students were more likely to cite specific issues— such as limits on abortion access and reproductive rights, racial equity concerns, lack of inclusive LGBTQ+ laws, “too easy to get a gun,” and inadequate mental health support—when ruling out schools they would have considered.

“We’ve been struck by the observation that liberals seem to be reacting mostly to very particular policies,” David Strauss, principal of the Art & Science Group tells The Chronicle. “Conservative students seem to be reacting a little bit to particular issues, but more to a general sense of a state being democratic or too liberal in a kind of generalized sense.”

Responding to political concerns

For some like 19-year old Cody Nobles, a native of Florida who is gay, Florida’s restrictions on LGBTQ+ rights are shaping where he might study. “For me personally, I just naturally assumed I was going to college down here,” says Nobles, who plans to study environmental science or marine biology at a school that allows him to observe aquatic life firsthand. However, his state’s laws have him considering leaving for California schools. “If things got worse, then I suppose I would have no choice,” he tells NBC News.

Nobles is not alone. A recent poll from Intelligent.com found that 91% of college-bound students in Florida disagree with the education policies of Governor Ron DeSantis, Inside Higher Ed reports. One in eight of Florida’s graduating high school students said they won’t attend a public college in the state due to those policies.

However, going out of state for college is not an option available to many students, experts say. Most students attend postsecondary institutions in their home state, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. “There’s enough research out there that shows that students perform better at campuses where they feel welcome and included,” Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride, a national organization for LGBTQ+ students, tells Diverse Issues in Higher Education. However, he notes, “most of our students that are in harm’s way are students who can’t afford to go out of state.”

Education leaders should respond to students’ concerns, the Arts & Sciences Group advises. “With political polarization on the rise and all regions set to see declines in the number of high school graduates in coming years,” the report says, “lawmakers and campus administrators would do well to take student convictions into account as political change-making continues to infiltrate campus life.”

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