This year, college decisions aren't solely based on class sizes, majors available and extracurricular activities.
New polling shows that college students, both incoming and existing, are concerned about their school's location in relation to reproductive health.
According to the latest Lumina Foundation/Gallup State of Higher Education study released on Thursday, among adults aged 18-59 in the United States who do not attend college and have no degree, 60% of them said that reproductive health laws were at least somewhat relevant to their decision to enroll in a specific college or university.
The poll found that nearly three quarters of students enrolled in college or university say the reproductive health laws of their state at least slightly influence their decision to remain there.
Lumina is a foundation which promotes post-secondary access. Courtney Brown, the vice president of strategic planning and impact at Lumina said, "That's a high percentage of people who say, if those restrictive reproductive laws were in place, I wouldn't attend a college there."
The Dobbs decision of the US Supreme Court ended the federal right for abortion in June. Since then, the laws governing reproductive health have varied from state to state. Some states have limited access to abortions while others have increased access.
Brandon Crawford, assistant professor of applied science at Indiana University, who was not involved in the study, said that 'the reality of abortion being prohibited in all or most situations is a reality for many'.
Crawford wrote an email that despite the fact that there were already differences in reproductive health policy across states, 'Roe v. Wade' provided a "floor" to legislation. This meant, in general, abortions could not be banned prior to viability. With the Dobbs ruling, this floor is no longer there.
Crawford and Indiana University Professor of Sexual Health Kristen Jozkowski are leading a multi-year study about attitudes among US adults towards abortion. Jozkowski said that the majority of the results are not surprising to her. She was also not involved in the most recent survey.
The results of the study show that younger generations are more aware of abortion and reproductive issues, but they also reveal a more nuanced perspective in general.
Jozkowski wrote an email that 'we find that people are more likely to tolerate abortion rather than necessarily support or object to it. This means that restricting it completely, as many state have done post-Dobbs seems out of line with public sentiment'.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, Gallup and Lumina have conducted this survey annually. The data were collected between October 26 and November 17.
Brown stated that the recent developments regarding abortion access have raised new questions.
She said: 'If you move to a country that does not allow you to be autonomous over your own body, this is not only offensive, but also not attractive to many women.
Unity rather than division is the answer
Results show a similarity in demographics.
Brown stated that when asked if they would enroll in college more readily if the state allowed better access to reproductive healthcare services, many people answered yes.
She added that a majority of all subpopulations - men, women, older and younger, as well as those who identify with a particular party - said "yes" to greater access to reproductive healthcare.
Respondents who identify as Republican and Democrat both showed a preference to attend a college located in a state that has less restrictions on reproductive health. Brown noted that it was not just the younger cohort who felt this way.
She said, "I think it's really impressive that 74% Republican adults who are not enrolled say they would enroll in a state with greater access."
Problems for individuals and states
Brown stated that enrollment in colleges and university has dropped since 2017 and has gotten worse, especially after the pandemic started.
She added that since 2017, there has been a decline of 14% in the number of students enrolled.
Brown stated that the survey results could indicate a problem in states hostile to reproductive rights. Data shows that some students are more inclined to leave their home state to attend college, or to avoid going to a state they would otherwise have considered.
Brown stated that this is a problem because it's important for students to know about local universities, and then find jobs in these states. Once they go to college or university in another state, they are less likely to return.
She added that this can lead to the loss of educated talent, which is what everyone wants.
Brown added that it's a problem also for those who are often already disadvantaged when it comes to college enrollment, reproductive rights and low-income, Black, Latino and Native American students. If it turns criminal, they will face additional criminal charges. Or they won't be able to afford to leave the state to get health care in another state.
Brown stated that they were concerned with the students' ability to pursue their college education if there are financial and legal barriers.