This is an article in Summer 2023 Insights magazine, co-written with my fellow IECA colleague Dr. Eva Garza-Nyer, about how various state policies may potentially influence future applicants choices and future educational experience.   

When it comes to building a college list, students must consider various factors that influence their academic journey and overall college experience. One crucial aspect often overlooked is the influence of state policies on higher education.

While every state has its own unique policies, some can have a negative impact on students. According to recent surveys, a concerning trend has emerged, revealing that one in four students surveyed has decided not to apply to a college based on the political climate of the state in which the institution is located. This decision cuts across the political spectrum, affecting liberals, moderates, and conservatives alike. Additionally, a significant number of LGBTQ identifying students (32 percent), expressed their hesitation to consider colleges in certain states due to potential challenges related to their identity.

Issues commonly mentioned when considering the impact of state policies on college choices include reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, a state’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in higher education, and firearms regulations. These policy areas have become significant touchpoints in the political landscape and can have far-reaching consequences for students.

Reproductive Rights

State policies regarding reproductive rights, particularly those related to abortion, have become increasingly polarizing. Some states have implemented restrictive measures, limiting access to reproductive healthcare and imposing regulations that can impact personal choices. For students and parents who prioritize reproductive rights and wish to attend colleges in states with more liberal policies in this area, these restrictions can be a deciding factor in their college selection process.

  • The Guttmacher Institute is a leading research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health. Their website provides comprehensive information on state-level reproductive health policies, including abortion regulations, contraception access, and reproductive rights.

LGBTQ Rights

LGBTQ rights have gained significant visibility and advocacy in recent years, but disparities still exist among states regarding protections and inclusive policies. Some states have enacted legislation that can be seen as discriminatory or lacking in support for LGBTQ individuals, such as restrictions on transgender rights, including health care and access to hormone treatments, or bathroom access. LGBTQ identifying students may prioritize attending colleges in states with more progressive policies to ensure their rights, safety, and inclusion.

Sites for you to utilize in an effort to empower your clients include:

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

News has surfaced regarding the ban on DEI training in public institutions. This ban restricts the ability of colleges and universities to implement programs and initiatives aimed at promoting diversity, addressing systemic inequalities, and fostering inclusive environments on campuses. Policies that inhibit DEI efforts can have far-reaching consequences for students. Colleges and universities play a crucial role in preparing students for a diverse and interconnected world, and a lack of support for DEI initiatives can hinder the educational experience and personal growth of students from marginalized communities. It is essential for students to consider how such policies may impact their ability to engage in inclusive learning environments, access support services, and thrive academically and socially.

When building a college list, students should actively research the DEI initiatives and commitments of each institution they are considering. They can review college websites, mission statements, and campus climate surveys to gauge the level of support for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Additionally, engaging in conversations with current students and faculty from diverse backgrounds can provide valuable insights into the campus community’s inclusivity.

Here are a few additional resources your students may use:

Firearms Regulations

Gun control policies and regulations vary widely across states, and this issue has also become a factor for students when considering college choices. Some students may feel strongly about attending colleges in states that have stricter gun control laws, while others may prioritize institutions in states with more relaxed regulations or stronger support for Second Amendment rights. Safety concerns and personal beliefs regarding firearms can significantly influence a student’s decision-making process.

  • The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is dedicated to promoting gun safety and preventing gun violence. Their website provides information on state gun laws, regulations, and advocacy efforts to ensure responsible firearm policies.

Strategies for College-Bound Students

Here are some strategies to help students navigate this complex landscape.

Research State Policies

Students should actively research and familiarize themselves with the political climate, policies, and legislation of states they are considering. This includes understanding the stance of state governments on issues such as reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and firearms regulations. Reliable sources, including official state websites, reputable news outlets, and advocacy organizations, can provide valuable insights.

Engage in Campus Conversations

Prospective students can engage in discussions with current students, faculty, and staff at the colleges they are considering. Campus visits, virtual tours, and information sessions are great opportunities to ask questions about how state policies may impact student life, support services, and the overall campus environment.

Seek Support Networks

Students can connect with support networks, student organizations, or affinity groups on campus that advocate for their specific concerns or interests. These communities can provide valuable guidance and a sense of belonging for students who may be affected by state policies.

Prioritize Personal Values

Students should reflect on their own personal values and consider how these align with the policies of a particular state. It is crucial to understand the potential impact on one’s well-being, rights, and overall college experience when making decisions about which states to include or exclude from their college list.

Here is an additional resource that you and students can utilize as you gather more information about state policies and their potential impact on college choices:

  • The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a comprehensive database of state laws and legislation across various policy areas. Students can access information on reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, firearms regulations, and other relevant topics.

By utilizing these resources and conducting thorough research, students can gain a better understanding of state policies and make informed decisions about which colleges align with their values and priorities.