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Survey finds students unprepared for college costs

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February 23, 2012

Teenagers are more worried and confused about how to fund their college tuition today, according to the third annual How Youth Plan to Fund College survey of 16 and 17-year-olds conducted by the College Savings Foundation.

A majority of the students, at 78 percent, said it was their responsibility to pay for at least part of their college education, but the survey revealed a gap between those aspirations and their ability to save.

While 74 percent of students reported they want to save for post-secondary education, only 45 percent have begun to do so. The survey also found that even of those that are saving, fewer are giving up electronics or cars than have in the past and fewer still know how much they should be saving.

"This is a clarion call for financial literacy," said CSF chairman Roger Michaud in a statement. "We need to better prepare both parents and their children with the skills and strategies to cope with the costs of college."

CSF, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works in support of education savings programs, also found a disconnect in survey respondents’ college choices.

While 78 percent of students said cost would influence their higher education plans, 21 percent—5 percent more than last year—planned to go to private schools and fewer—45 percent, down from 51 percent—than in 2011 were planning on public schools.

On the flip side, more parents are saving for their children’s college costs than last year, up 6 percentage points to 45 percent in 2012. Of that number, 31 percent are using tax-advantaged 529 college savings plans.

But as outstanding student debt now tops $1 trillion, students are still relying on loans. The survey found 63 percent expect to borrow to pay for college, with three quarters of those students planning to cover more than 25 percent of college costs with debt.

While almost all of students planning to borrow are concerned about their eventual debt burden, only 25 percent of that group has projected the total loan amount they will need to graduate, down from 30 percent last year. Only 20 percent, down from 22 percent, have projected how much they will owe each month to pay the debt.

Many of the respondents expect financial aid (80 percent) and merit scholarships (70 percent) to assist in paying for higher education, though only 10.6 percent of full-time students at four-year schools received non-athletic scholarships in 2007-08 and the average amount of assistance was $2,815, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study at FinAid.org.

More students are talking to their parents about their involvement in funding this education than last year, up to 70 percent from 63 percent. Some of these conversations were captured in the survey’s commentary:

"My parents have been unemployed and it is very difficult for them to help us with college expenses, yet alone make house and bill payments. They have told me it is up to me to pay for my college tuition."

"College costs have gone up way too much. It costs more to go the college then buying a really nice car and almost as much as buying a home. In some cases more than buying a home."

"Father went through a plant closure in 2006, an additional job change in 2008, a lay-off in 2009, and didn't land a decent job until September 2010. Five years of a lousy manufacturing sector eroded what savings we accumulated."

Students do appear eager to improve their education in this area, with 51 percent wishing their current high school offered financial literacy instruction for them and their families, and 52 percent having researched tuition costs for specific colleges and post-secondary schools, up from 49 percent last year. Additionally, 35 percent said they have researched ways to save, which include personal savings and 529 college savings plans.

"Funding college is an enormous challenge, and to their credit, these high school students want to get a better understanding of how to tackle it," Michaud stated.

More findings from the survey and graphed results are available at www.collegesavingsfoundation.org.

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