Sticking Close to Home for College

I talked to a mom last week who wanted me to help her son find wonderful colleges that would would award him a scholarship, but her top priority is keeping him as close to home as possible.

The San Diego mom wants him to attend a California college. She also seemed to rule out Northern California as too far away.

Why does he have to attend college nearby?

“I’d miss my baby,” she explained. And she added, “He would miss my food.”

I tried to explain to her that he’d enjoy many more educational opportunities — and chances for scholarships and/or financial aid – if he could cast a wider net, but she shut me down. The mom might seem extreme, but most teenagers don’t  seriously consider attending a college outside their state.

I checked figures today from the National Center for Education Statistics and here is what I found:

Nearly 83%  of students attend four-year colleges and universities in their own states. The number is even higher for students who end up at state universities — 90.5%  of them never leave their state. In contrast, 44% of students who select private colleges do cross their state lines.

Affluent students are more likely to choose out-of-state schools. Among families with incomes over $100,000, 21% attended either private or public institutions out-of- state. In comparison, 9% of students coming from families with incomes of $40,000 or less, attended out-of-state schools.

The Most Adventurous College Students

Among ethnic groups, Asians are the most adventurous. Twenty-one percent of Asian students attend college elsewhere compared with nearly 7% of Hispanics, 14% of African-Americans and 13% of whites.

The average distance between home and school for students who stay in their respective states is 189 miles for state schools and 349 miles for private schools.

What really blew my mind, however, is what the median distance from home to campus is for American college students. For four-year private schools, the median distance is 49 miles and it’s 30 miles for four-year public universities.

I find this ironic since schools farther away will sometimes cost less for promising students than schools nearby. I think that’s even more true today with the problems public universities are experiencing in some states.

Of course, I’m biased. I just checked Mapquest and discovered that my daughter’s college is  2,576 from our house and my son’s is 2,050 miles away. And they, by the way, are doing fine. Knock on wood.

Further reading:

Parents of Teenagers: Cut the Apron Strings

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch and another for US News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. My son is in his freshman year at the flagship state university campus, 90 minutes by car from our house. He wanted to go away but the finances just didn’t add up. Nevertheless, he is having plenty of new experiences, meeting new people, learning and growing, and for all intents and purposes it’s as if he moved across the country with regard to parental contact.

  2. We live in Nevada and my daughter is in her freshman year at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She’s learned how to eat blue crab, seen colonial, revolutionary and civil war sites which are part of the campus or within 30 mins., traveled to New York for her varsity sport, met friends who play field hockey and lacrosse (sports not common in Nevada), experienced hurricanes, and is now seeing the gorgeous colors of an east coast fall in addition to a rigorous and interesting academic atmosphere (bio, chem and calc average class size 25). Of course I miss her, but attending school across the country has expanded her world and inhanced her education in ways not possible had she remained in the west. Also, it was affordable given this is a public school and she was awarded an academic scholarship.

    1. Heather,

      Thanks for sharing your daughter’s experience in Maryland. Sounds like she is doing fabulous and also learning about life beyond the West. It’s not for everybody, but I think the experience of attending school in different regions is priceless.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy