Close to Home: How Much Does Location Matter in College Recruiting?

It’s a reality. Most college students aren’t venturing far from home.

Estimates vary about the precise measurements, but studies are consistent in the bottom-line application: location matters—a lot. Niche data shows that nearly 60% of students go to a college within 100 miles of their hometown, and 72% of students stay in-state, while only 11% of students go more than 500 miles (often on athletic scholarship). An American Council on Education study found the median distance from a student’s home to college is only 18 miles for public four-year institutions and 46 miles for private nonprofit four-year institutions.

The ACE study identified key reasons for students staying close to home: family responsibilities, cultural norms, or factors related to working while enrolled in school. Students who are more affluent are less affected by distance, while students from working-class families and Latino, African American, and Native American students are most affected by distance. (See also help for increasing minority enrollment here.)

As Ruth Lopez-Turley, professor of sociology at Rice University (TX) is quoted in the ACE report, we “should stop treating the college-choice process as though it were independent of location and start situating this process within the geographic context in which it occurs.”

Maximize Your Home Base

If the majority of your prospects are within 50–100 miles, it makes sense to focus broad-sweeping efforts and budgets here. This doesn’t mean you only recruit close to home, but recruiting outside these bounds should be highly focused, and it may require personalized attention to help recruits overcome barriers of distance.

For those prospective students within the 100-mile radius, they have limited choices close to home, so you can narrow your competitive edge. What will make your school stand out from the others specifically within your geographic area?

Then Think Regionally

The University of New England in Maine—the ninth-fastest-growing private college in the country, succeeded by expanding recruiting outside the state, in the New England region. Thinking in terms of a 250-mile radius, they were able to stretch the “close-to-home” boundary (while still maintaining the principle). Private schools have an advantage in this regard, since students crossing state lines—and forfeiting in-state tuition rates—are more likely to attend a private school in a neighboring state.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, while 40 percent of private colleges have decreased the number of in-state freshmen in recent years, only 32 percent of public colleges have. Of the top 20 colleges with the biggest drops in the ratio of in-state to out-of-state students, 14 were private colleges.

What does “close to home” mean for your prospective students? Should that make a difference in your recruiting plans? Let's talk about your strategy for this recruiting season.