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Research Says Fancy College Dorms, Gyms Don’t Attract Applicants

Universities and colleges may be competing to build such perks as climbing walls and fancy dormitories, but the “arms race” over residence halls, food services, and fitness centers is having little effect on college applicants’ choices, new research shows.

Conducted before and after the economic downturn by economists Kevin Rask of Colorado College and Amanda Griffith of Wake Forest University, the research says students are more interested in price and prestige than in amenities.

Families that do and do not qualify for financial aid are equally concerned about cost and reputation, particularly as measured by the U.S. News and World Report rankings, Rask and Griffith found after surveying high-achieving students in various income categories who started college between 2005 and the academic year just ended.

Students who were eligible for financial aid were 2.1 percentage points less likely to choose an institution for every $1,000 increase in its price, and 1.2 percentage points more likely to enroll for every level a school improved in the U.S. News rankings.

The findings parallel those of the annual national survey of freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, in which two out of three said economic conditions affected where they went to college, and more than 13 percent could not afford their first choice.

The importance of the rankings in attracting students, meanwhile, has been one of the factors blamed in several cases in which universities have been discovered misrepresenting some of their admissions statistics to improve their standings.

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