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Students Are More Likely to Attend College if They Believe Family Can Afford to Pay
January 12, 2022

Student beliefs about family finances are related to college enrollment after high school

WASHINGTON (January 12, 2022)—The average student is more likely to attend college if the student thinks their family can afford to send their child to college, according to College Affordability Views and College Enrollment, a Data Point released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

“College affordability is a major concern for families, and paying for college looms large for students, particularly students who would be the first in their families to earn a degree,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “This new analysis reveals that students are more likely to enroll in college if they believe their family can afford to send them. A student’s belief in their ability to afford college may have important implications for how they search for information on paying for college while in high school or whether to apply.”

Family background has been shown in previous research to relate to the likelihood that a student goes to college. In particular, the higher the parent’s education level, the more likely a student is to enroll in college. This new analysis by NCES shows that differences in enrollment according to students’ beliefs about college affordability occur at all levels of parental education. 

College Affordability Views and College Enrollment uses data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009. This is a national study of more than 23,000 students in ninth grade in 2009. Students answered surveys between 2009 and 2016, and college transcripts were collected in 2017–18. This Data Point looks at the connection between views of college affordability in high school and college enrollment and employment 3 years after high school.

Key Findings

Perceptions of College Affordability

Family Background

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To learn more about the data used in this report, visit


The National Center for Education Statistics, a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

The High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) is a nationally representative, longitudinal study of approximately 21,000 9th-grade students in 944 schools who will be followed through their secondary and postsecondary years. The study focuses on understanding students’ trajectories from the beginning of high school into postsecondary education, the workforce, and beyond. The HSLS:09 questionnaire is focused on, but not limited to, information on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers. It is designed to provide data on mathematics and science education, the changing high school environment, and postsecondary education. This study features a new student assessment in algebra skills, reasoning, and problem solving and includes surveys of students, their parents, math and science teachers, and school administrators, as well as a new survey of school counselors.

Contact: Josue DeLaRosa, NCES,, (202) 705-6692 OR James Elias, Hager Sharp,, 202-355-4417