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How Far from Home Do US Students Travel to Attend College?

July 16 2013

How Far from Home Do US Students Travel to Attend College?   
ACT Report Shows Higher-Achieving Students Travel Farther
Than Lower-Achieving Students

IOWA CITY, IOWA—The greater a student’s academic achievement, the farther away from home that student is likely to attend college, according to a new research report from ACT. The findings of the report, entitled College Choice Report—Part 2: Enrollment Patterns, point to an opportunity to better inform lower-achieving students of the choices available to them.

The ACT research shows that 2012 U.S. graduates who took the ACT® college readiness assessment attended college a median distance of 51 miles from their home. That median distance, however, increases dramatically as ACT composite scores go higher.

For students with an ACT composite score of 28 to 36—the upper scoring range on the 1 to 36 scale—the median distance from home to college was more than 113 miles; for students with a score of 33 or higher, the median distance was 170 miles. In contrast, students who earned an ACT composite score below 24 attended college a median distance of less than 50 miles from home.

A similar relationship exists between the education level of the student’s parents and the distance traveled to college:  the higher the parent’s level of education, the farther away students went to attend college. Among first-generation college students, the median distance to college was just 24 miles.

“Better educated parents tend to have greater financial resources, but they may also have more knowledge of college application facts and resources to share with their children than do less educated parents who have not been through that experience themselves,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education. “We must take steps to better inform all students and their families of the variety of options available to them.”

ACT findings suggest that student awareness plays a major role in this phenomenon. Students were asked how far from home they preferred to attend college. Four out of five ACT-tested graduates ended up attending a college that matched their expressed location preference.

“Our findings complement those of a recently released paper by The Hamilton Project, which suggested that high-achieving, low-income students don’t always take advantage of all of the existing postsecondary opportunities,” said Steve Kappler, head of postsecondary strategy for ACT. “Students may be selecting a small choice set and sticking to that set without exploring all of the options available to them. We must help students understand that the colleges that best fit their needs and interests may be ones they have never even heard of.

“It’s important for students to have meaningful conversations with many types of institutions so they can make more informed decisions about their future. ACT is committed to helping all students, particularly underserved low-income students, understand the choices and opportunities in front of them.”

 Among other key findings of the report are the following:

  • Fifty-four percent of all 2012 ACT-tested graduates who enrolled in college attended a public four-year college, 22 percent attended a private four-year college and 24 percent attended a two-year college.
  • Twenty-two percent of students attended an out-of-state college. That figure rises to more than 36 percent among students who earned an ACT composite score of 28 or higher and up to 49 percent of those earning a score of 33 or higher.
  • Students with higher aspirations typically attended college farther from home.

The report can be accessed free of charge on ACT’s website at the following URL:  www.act.org/collegechoice/13/.