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Cost Is One Of The Biggest Barriers Students Face Going To College, But Lack Of Clear Information About Applying Contributes Too

An illustration of a stack of books on a scale balancing with a pile of cash.
Feodora Chiosea
Less than half of high school students surveyed in a recent report said they felt confident applying for school and financial aid.

High school students face a lot of barriers when it comes to applying for and enrolling in college, from deciding where to go, what to study and how to pay for it all.

A recent report from the nonprofit growth-planning group Envision Utah found that many of the challenges also come from a lack of clear information.

Onalee Estrada can relate. She just graduated from Bingham High School in South Jordan.

Estrada said she always wanted to go to Brigham Young University. Even though she was accepted, the cost of attending was weighing on her.

She said her parents had planned on supporting her through college, but they were hit with financial difficulties over the last year.

“It’s all on me now,” Estrada said. “And just because of our tax records, everybody is like, ‘Well you don’t qualify for student aid. You don’t qualify to get any money from the government.’”

She said she’s spent a huge amount of time scrolling college websites for different scholarships they offer and calling admissions offices with questions.

“There’s so much out there,” she said. “It’s just really hard to access. So I wish that it was a bit more [of a] streamlined process.”

Ultimately, Estrada was able to get a scholarship that will make it possible for her to attend BYU. But the trouble she had navigating the system echoed what many students said was a significant hurdle.

Envision Utah’s report found students had misperceptions about the value of going to college, what they needed to do to apply and how much debt they’d have to take on.

For example, close to 1 in 5 students thought they’d leave school with $50,000 in debt or more. In reality, when going to college in Utah, the average borrower in 2019 owed $16,633 in student loans — the lowest in the country.

“We've heard a lot of talk in the news, especially national media, about student debt loads and people questioning, is college really worth it?” said Jason Brown, vice president of education at Envision Utah. “We were nervous that high school kids were just hearing this conversation and saying, you know, college is too expensive. And not taking into account the the local conditions”

He said the report’s findings suggest students don’t have what they need to make informed decisions. Less than half of the people surveyed said they felt confident applying for school and financial aid.

“That's concerning, right?” he said. “We would like all of our students to at least know how to navigate it. Even if they're not going. They should feel like they could if they wanted to.”

Brown said the state could help by getting more college advisors in every school. It could also do things like creating a common application for state schools.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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