Wealth, Cost, and the Undergraduate Student Experience at Large Public Research Universities


Relying  primarily  on  the  responses  of  a  proportionally  weighted  sample  of  undergraduate  students  attending eighteen  majorpublic research universities (N > 300K, responses from > 130K, n > 40K)that are part of the Student Experience in the Research University  Consortium,  this  paper  concludes  that  students  from  households  at  all  income  levels  have  been  impacted  by  the increasing  expense  of  higher  education.  The  large  majority  of  students  from  households  at  all  income  levels  have  changed behaviors to make college more affordable. However, the most remarkable result was that dependent students from households with  incomes  up  to  $100,000  experienced  college  much  the  same. Thus  far,  it  appears  that  financial  aid  has  been  very successful  at  mitigating  the  challenges  of  limited  or  inadequate  household  financial  resources –generally  households  with incomes  less  than  $100,000.  In  contrast,  students  from  wealthier  households,  that  is  households  with  income  greater  than $200,000, have a more satisfied, more enriching educational experience and worry about financial debt less. As is generally true, it is better to be wealthy. The perception of value for price paid varied by state and was not directly associated with cost to attend or by selectivity,except that the top-rated public universities were considered to be good values regardless of relative cost. And last, there was no clear evidence of middle-class squeeze in the experience of undergraduate students. There were no behaviors or satisfaction ratings with U-shaped relationships where poor and wealthy students had better experiences than students from households  in  the  middle  ranges.  The  relationships  were  linear  or  curvilinear  with  monotonic  increases.  Note  that  the  lack  ofmiddle-class squeeze was based on currently enrolled students’ experiences, not the experiences of their parents, students who did not enroll or enrolled elsewhere, or of recent graduates.One question is whether we will see similar findings over time, and as public universities increase their tuition and financial aid programs.

Steve Chatman
Publication date: 
October 1, 2011
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
Chatman, S. (2011). Wealth, Cost, and the Undergraduate Student Experience at Large Public Research Universities. UC Berkeley: Center for Studies in Higher Education.