Students are becoming increasingly concerned about the local political climate when considering which college they will attend, according to a new survey from the higher education consulting firm Art & Science Group.
The survey, conducted between January and February 2023, included responses from 1,865 high school seniors. Out of the 778 who planned to attend college in the fall, one in four said they ruled out institutions based on the politics and policies in the state where the school is located.
These sentiments were similar at both ends of the political spectrum, with 31 percent of liberals and 28 percent of conservatives saying they have written off a university because of state politics. The figure was slightly lower for moderates at 22 percent.
In addition to concerns about a state being “too Republican,” liberal students cited specific issues regarding abortion access, racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, lack of gun control measures, and inadequate focus on mental health support as reasons for ruling out a school.
For conservative students, the top concerns related to how overall left-leaning a state was, whether laws on LGBTQ+ and abortion rights were too liberal, and if conservative voices were likely to be squashed.
Nearly one-third of both liberal and conservative students said they were apprehensive about free speech on campus and assumed voices sharing their political opinion were likely to be silenced.
“Perhaps reflecting the drift toward broad political polarization in the U.S. (and elsewhere), we found that students’ gender, race, household income, or region of residence did not arise as statistically significant predictors marking student comfort levels around attending a school in a state they perceive as having an undesirable political landscape,” the survey states.
There were two exceptions, however. LGBTQ+ students were more likely to say politics affected their college decision compared with their non-LGBTQ peers, and students who are not first-generation are more likely to consider the political climate compared with those who are.
The states most likely to be ruled out include Alabama (38 percent), Texas (29 percent), and Florida and Louisiana (both 21 percent).
With the political divide continuing to widen and enrollment rates falling, the report says that colleges may need to adjust their recruitment efforts to account for the negative perceptions students have about state policies.
“[A]s the regional student markets shift, institutions will likely need to pay particular attention to their individual and distinctive positioning in order to attract students in their market despite challenges posed by state social policies,” the survey concludes.