College Applicants Are Avoiding Schools in Anti-Abortion and Anti-Trans States

"I don’t want to go to school in a state where I won’t have reproductive rights access," one prospective student said.

College Applicants Are Avoiding Schools in Anti-Abortion and Anti-Trans States
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Prospective college students once interested in schools in states like Texas and Florida are now scratching those options off their lists, college counselors across the country told Politico in a recent series of interviews.

“Students have told me, ‘I really want to go to Texas [the University of Texas at Austin], but I’m taking them off my list,’” college admissions consultant Christina Taber-Kewene told Politico. Taber-Kewene is based in New Jersey and primarily works with students living in the Northeast. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t want to go to school in a state where I won’t have reproductive rights access.’” She added that some students have told her they “don’t want to send money to a state” that’s banning abortion.

Venkates Swaminathan, founder and CEO of the college consulting company LifeLaunchr, told Politico he’s seen a “much greater number of students who say they don’t want to go to public [schools] in Florida,” and that “students will say they don’t want to support that state and don’t feel safe there.” Florida’s recent anti-LGBTQ law known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law may not directly impact universities in the state, as it focuses on K-12 education, but institutions of higher education in conservative states often face threats and punishment from their state governments over speech issues. It doesn’t help that the “Don’t Say Gay” law has increasingly become synonymous with the state of Florida itself.

Florida is one of several states that’s recently passed anti-LGBTQ and particularly anti-trans legislation, as several move to push gender-affirming health care out-of-reach and enact bans on trans student athletes, likely alienating prospective college students in the process.

Politico’s interviews mirror surveys of college-educated workers from shortly after Texas’ near-total abortion ban, S.B. 8, took effect last September. Per the findings, 75% of surveyed women said the law would discourage them from working in Texas, and 73% said they wouldn’t even apply for a job in a state that passed a ban like Texas’—the same was true of even 58% of surveyed men. Relevant to Politico’s reporting on prospective college students, 73% of all surveyed Gen-Zers said they wouldn’t accept a job in a state that was hostile to reproductive rights.

High school seniors are entirely justified in their concerns about attending schools in states that are chilling if not altogether dismantling reproductive and LGBTQ rights. Even in states with more liberalized laws around abortion, college students often face significant barriers to access care, including affordability, distance, and missing class and work. Their ability to access a health service that could be crucial to allowing them to continue college would be even further strained, if not altogether impossible, if they lived in Texas or another state that’s recently banned abortion. They would be forced to travel out-of-state and likely have to pay a small fortune—not to mention, they’d possibly have to travel and navigate these barriers alone.

We’ve also been seeing another possible consequence for not just abortion, but any pregnancy loss in states where the procedure is banned or especially stigmatized: jail and criminalization. While criminal charges for pregnancy outcomes have tripled in recent years across the country as a whole, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, it’s not surprising that states with abortion bans, in particular, are shifting to treat all pregnancies and pregnancy outcomes as crime scenes. Texas’ ban notably makes all pregnant-capable people subject to terrifying spying and surveillance from their neighbors, as it’s quite literally enforced by snitching and lawsuits. This is a reality that young, prospective college students who could become pregnant will have to contend with—and per Politico’s reporting, it sounds like many of them already are.

In contrast, come 2023, all University of California and California State University campuses will offer medication abortion services at student health centers. The Massachusetts state legislature is currently considering similar legislation. California state Sen. Connie Leyva, who authored the bill to bring abortion pills to college campuses, told Politico her goal in writing the legislation was to ensure “students will not have to choose between delaying important medical care or having to travel long distances or miss classes or work.”

If colleges in states impacted by abortion bans or anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ legislation see a decline in applicants, conservative state lawmakers will be the ones to blame. As one Georgia-based college counselor told Politico, “This generation of teens is politically engaged. They’re thinking: How much is politics going to impact my experience at college?” This is true—but teens and young people are thinking as much about their own survival as they are, politics. One in four women and pregnant-capable people have had an abortion; if high school seniors are thinking about which states might deny them care or even criminalize them for seeking it, they’re not just weighing their support for reproductive rights—they’re considering their own safety.

An unfortunate reality remains that many young people already living in states impacted by discriminatory laws may not have the option to attend school anywhere but their home state due to cost barriers. Because abortion and trans health care bans disproportionately target low-income people, many impacted young people may not even have the option or privilege of attending higher learning. Abortion and trans health bans are devastating for everyone and will always carry the most harm for those with the least resources.

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