Teens take risks if college is costly

As community college costs rise, teenagers are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as heavy drinking, abusing drugs, smoking and having sex with multiple partners, concludes a study by Washington State economist Ben Cowan.

Teens see college attendance as an achievable goal if costs are low, Cowan writes in the Economics of Education Review. That expectation seems to influence their behavior.

“Specifically, a $1,000 reduction in tuition and fees at two-year colleges in a youth’s state of residence is associated with a decline in the number of sexual partners the youth had in the past year, the number of days in the past month the youth smoked and the number of days in the past month the youth smoked marijuana.”

Community college costs range from less than $2,000 in seven states to $4,000 to $5,000 in New York and Massachusetts, notes Miller-McCune Online. After controlling for family income and stability, parents’ education and other factors, Cowan found that “teens living in states in which two-year college is relatively inexpensive engage in lower levels of sexual activity, smoking, heavy drinking and marijuana use.”

Education and good health habits tend to go together, starting in adolescence. “Teenagers with brighter college prospects curb their risky behavior in accordance with their expectations,” Cowan writes.

Not surprisingly, community college tuition rates have the largest effect on teens who are unsure about their college plans, the study found.

Developmental reading, writing and math instructors may wonder: If teens modify their behavior in response to college expectations, why don’t they work harder in high school to prepare for community college? Perhaps they don’t know that slacking off in math class is a high-risk behavior for a would-be college graduate.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON April 28, 2011

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[…] on Community College Spotlight: Low community college tuition  deters teen drinking, drug abuse and high-risk sex, according to a new study. Why? Teens who see college as affordable don’t want to risk the […]

Joseph Kaye

I read a few follow-up pieces on this study, though not the study itself, and I didn’t see anything about the effect of “free” college. I’m guessing there’s a sweet spot where college costs enough to be considered an investment or something valuable and is affordable enough to be considered a realistic and attainable goal. It’d be interesting to know what that price point is.

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