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Faltering Economy Continues To Pinch Freshmen and Colleges, Studies Find

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WASHINGTON--First-year college students and higher-education institutions continue to feel the pinch of the prolonged downturn in the nation's economy, two new reports from the American Council on Education indicate.

The lobbying group based here also concludes in a third study that part-time college students find it much more difficult to obtain financial aid than do their full-time counterparts.

The three reports were each released within the past three weeks.

In its annual study of incoming freshmen conducted for the A.C.E., the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles reports that 30 percent of students who first enrolled in college in the fall of 1992, a record high, indicated that they chose their institution based on its low tuition.

The survey also found record numbers of students who reported that they picked their school because of the financial assistance they were offered (28.3 percent) and because they wanted to live near their home (23.6 percent).

Record highs were also recorded when 17.4 percent of the respondents reported a "major concern'' with their ability to finance college, 8.2 percent said they were attending college because they could not find a job, and 3.3 percent said their father was unemployed.

More students than in recent years also said that it was likely that they would have to get a part- or full-time job during their first year.

The survey, which included 213,630 students from 404 institutions, also found that:

  • 42 percent of those questioned, an all-time high, said "helping to promote racial understanding'' is an "essential'' or "very important'' goal, while 85.1 percent, another high, disagreed that "racial discrimination is no longer a problem in America.''
  • 43.3 percent, another high, said that "influencing social values'' is an "essential'' or "very important'' goal in their lives.
  • A record 65.6 percent said they had performed volunteer work in the past year.

Enrollment Trends

Meanwhile, in its annual survey of enrollment trends, the A.C.E. draws a correlation between college enrollment and the level of state support for higher-education institutions.

The total college enrollment in the fall of 1992 dropped or remained steady relative to the previous year in seven of 19 states surveyed, the A.C.E. said. In five of those seven states, state governments appropriated less money to higher-education institutions in the 1992-93 fiscal year than they had two years earlier.

Of the seven states that recorded the largest enrollment increases, six appropriated more funds for this fiscal year than they had appropriated in 1990-91.

Moreover, the survey reveals that the enrollment changes in states vary not only by states but by geographic region.

All seven Southern and South-Central states included in the survey and all three Western states reported enrollment increases. Only three of the five Northeastern states, and none of the North-Central states, registered enrollment increases.

The survey also found that enrollment increased at two-year institutions in 14 of 19 states, while such increases were recorded in nine of the 19 states at four-year institutions.

The states surveyed represent 46 percent of the total U.S. postsecondary enrollment.

Financial-Aid Study

In the third study, the A.C.E. found that, although more and more college students are attending school on a part-time basis, those students are much less likely than their full-time counterparts to receive federal, state, or institutional financial aid.

In 1990, only 12 percent of part-time students received federal aid; 5 percent received state or institutional aid.

That same year, 43 percent of full-time undergraduates received federal aid, 21 percent received state aid, and 20 percent received institutional aid.

The study notes that Pell Grants are not available to part-time students and that federal campus-based aid and state and institutional aid is generally reserved for full-time students.

To resolve the disparity, the study suggests that the federal government establish a matching or low-interest loan program so employers can provide aid to employees who pursue their college degrees.

Copies of "The American Freshman'' are available for $23 each, prepaid (including shipping), from the Higher Education Research Institute, U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Education, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90024-1521.

"Part-Time Enrollment: Trends and Issues'' is available as part of the A.C.E.'s 1992 research-brief series, which costs $58 a year, from the A.C.E. Division of Policy Analysis and Research, 1 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036-1193; (202) 939-9450.

Copies of the A.C.E. enrollment survey are available from the A.C.E. Office of Public Affairs, 1 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036-1193; (202) 939-9365.

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