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9-11 Attacks Impact on Colleges

Shortly after the events of September 11, officials at college campuses around the country began to worry about the impact America's "war on terrorism" might have on student enrollment. The school year had already begun at that point, so it was the next academic year that was in question. Now, as the first semester of that year draws to a close, a new study finds that some things have, in fact, changed.

In the months that followed last year's attacks, many administrators were concerned that the lagging economy might cause some high school graduates to postpone the expense of college. But a recent survey commissioned by Sallie Mae, the company that manages most the nation's student loans, reveals that the number of students attending college has not actually gone down.

What has changed, according to study coordinator Lana Lowe, is that more American students are choosing to attend colleges closer to home. "Fifty-one percent of the institutions said they saw increases in the local market," she says. "Thirty-nine percent of the institutions said they saw increases in enrollment from their regional market."

A university's local market consists of potential students living in the state where the school is located. A regional market usually includes all the states bordering that state. Ms. Lowe says the economy probably did convince students to go to school closer to home. Most state-run universities give significant tuition discounts to students whose families reside in the state. But Lana Lowe says parental concern may also be driving the new enrollment trend. After September 11, many colleges started emphasizing the advantages of having a student stay close to his or her family when attending college.

Ms. Lowe says this message was geared specifically toward parents, who started visiting college campuses with their children more often after the attacks. "About 30 percent of the institutions reported modifying their recruitment strategies. Thirty-six percent emphasized location more. Twenty-nine percent emphasized safety more," she says.

Nearly half of the 323 colleges participating in the survey said they had increased security on their campuses… and were pointing out this fact when recruiting new students. Sallie Mae's study reveals that security may, in fact, be a new interest among American college students… though not necessarily because they're concerned about their own safety. The survey also took a look at the subjects students are majoring in, in this post-September 11 era. It found significant increases in international studies, forensics, and criminal justice… subjects which could prepare students to assume careers in the new field of Homeland Security.