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Many high school seniors prefer high-amenity colleges, survey shows

Lazy rivers, climbing walls and omelet bars are just a few of the on-campus amenities often blamed for driving the skyrocketing cost of college in the United States, as Forbes reports. Colleges have engaged in an arms race of perks—advertising free laptops and state-of-the-art gyms to entice prospective students, as Ron Lieber’s book “The Price You Pay for College” details, for decades.

A recent survey of high school students shows many want these amenities, often willing to shell out big bucks for them, despite the ballooning student debt crisis. Art & Science Group, a higher education consulting and research firm, conducted online interviews with 786 U.S. high school seniors planning to enroll at a four-year college or university in the fall. Asked whether they would prefer an institution that was less expensive with fewer amenities and services, only 39% of student respondents said yes. A greater share — 44% —said they would prefer a more expensive school if it had more amenities and services. 

“Concerns about the rising costs of higher education are real. The impact on families — especially starting out from lower-income positions — is real. But broadly, we haven’t yet hit a tipping point,” said David Strauss, a principal at Art & Science Group and co-author of the analysis, as Forbes reports. “There’s a significant swath of the media that says higher education is pushing something on people that they don’t want or that isn’t wise for them, and yet, the main market is telling us ‘Yeah, but we want more and are therefore willing to pay more for it.’’

Survey results show that most students are at least somewhat concerned about the cost of college. In 2021, the average sticker price for tuition, fees, room and board at private four-year colleges was $51,690 annually, up from $40,670 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) in 2006, according to a recent College Board report. The average list price for public, four-year colleges was $22,690 in 2021, up from $17,120 in 2006.

Fifty-five percent of the respondents said they had some concerns about their ability to afford college, and an additional 22% of students said they had major concerns about it. Black, Latino and first-generation college students more often said they had major concerns about college affordability.