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Reproductive Health Laws Factor Into Many College Decisions

Reproductive Health Laws Factor Into Many College Decisions

by Stephanie Marken and Zach Hrynowski

Story Highlights

  • Reproductive health laws affect enrollment for 72% of college students
  • 60% of unenrolled adults say such laws would influence their enrollment

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- According to a new study from Lumina Foundation and Gallup, nearly three-quarters of currently enrolled college students (72%) report that the reproductive health laws in the state where their college is located are at least somewhat important to their decision to stay enrolled. A smaller majority of unenrolled U.S. adults, aged 18 to 59, who do not have a degree (60%) say these laws are at least somewhat important to their decision to enroll in a specific college or university.


These findings come from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study, conducted Oct. 26-Nov. 17, 2022. Results are based on web survey responses from 6,008 U.S. adults currently enrolled in an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, certificate or certification program, and 6,007 U.S. adults aged 18 to 59 who are not currently enrolled in such a program. About half of the unenrolled adults surveyed have no prior college experience, while the rest have attended some college but have not earned a degree.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which effectively overturned the court’s prior decision in Roe v. Wade and allowed states to impose greater restrictions on abortion, many states have explored or enacted new reproductive healthcare legislation. Some legislatures, such as those in Florida and Oklahoma, have moved to enact laws restricting abortion access after six weeks. Others in states like Massachusetts and California have gone in the other direction, increasing women’s access to and protections for reproductive care within their state.

Age has notable influence on the importance of this issue, but only among unenrolled adults: 73% of unenrolled adults aged 18 to 24 say reproductive health laws are at least somewhat important to their decision to enroll in a college, compared with 57% of unenrolled adults aged 25 to 59.

Among currently enrolled students, 73% of those aged 18 to 24 and 70% of those aged 25 to 59 say state reproductive health laws are at least somewhat important in their decision to stay enrolled at their current institution.


Party identification and gender also influence these policies' relative importance to current and potential students. Among currently enrolled students, Democrats (80%) are most likely to report state laws governing abortion access are at least somewhat important to them in influencing their enrollment decision, though majorities of enrolled independents (71%) and Republicans (62%) also agree it is an important consideration. Similarly, 76% of currently enrolled women and 62% of unenrolled women report these laws either do or would influence their college enrollment, compared with smaller majorities of currently enrolled (68%) and unenrolled men (57%).

Current and Prospective Students Favor Less Restrictive Policies

Among those who say reproductive health services are an important consideration in their college enrollment decisions, more than eight in 10 currently enrolled students (81%) and unenrolled students (85%) say they would prefer to attend a university in a state with greater access to reproductive health services, while fewer than two in 10 would prefer to attend college in a more restrictive state.


Among enrolled students who say state reproductive health laws are important, 86% of Democrats, 85% of independents and 65% of Republicans prefer the state have less restrictive laws, as do 86% of women and 74% of men. Younger enrolled students who say reproductive laws are important are more likely than older students to favor less restrictive state laws (83% vs. 75%, respectively).

Among unenrolled students who say such laws are important considerations in their enrollment decisions, 89% of Democrats, 87% of independents and 74% of Republicans favor states with less restrictive laws. There are no meaningful gender or age differences among unenrolled students.


Results from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study are being shared at a unique time for both higher education institutions and state legislatures. As many states consider new policies governing reproductive healthcare services, colleges and universities continue to grapple with declining enrollment numbers, a trend that began three years before the COVID-19 pandemic. If more than half of currently unenrolled adults, and higher percentages of current students, say it is at least somewhat important that the college they attend is in a state that does not restrict access to these services -- and the vast majority of these would prefer to attend college in a less restrictive state -- schools in states that have adopted or are considering adopting restrictive abortion policies may be at risk of even greater enrollment declines.

The potential to discourage enrollment is especially great in terms of women and young adults -- both of whom are disproportionately represented on college campuses compared with male students and those older than 24.

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Learn more about how the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study works.

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