College Savings Foundation 12th Annual Survey

September 5, 2018

Contact: Lynthia Romney (914) 238-2145/(914) 589-2140


Survey Infographic

50% of families have a 529 earmarked for their children

Washington, DC, September 5 – Today’s parents are savvy college savers who are strategically planning for their children’s higher education and leveraging the benefits of 529 college savings plans to achieve their goals, reports the College Savings Foundation (CSF) in its 12th Annual State of College Savings survey.   Released in recognition of College Savings Month, the survey of parents across the country and income brackets found that the vast majority (79%) are saving for their children’s higher education, with 45% of them amassing more than $25,000 per child and three quarters more than $5,000 per child.

A full 50% of all families have a 529 college savings plan in place for their children – either with the parent (33%) or in the name of the child (17%).

“529 college saving plans have come of age.  We are excited to see that parents are embracing proven strategies for funding their children’s higher education by saving early, often and with the advantages of 529s,” said CSF Chair Richard J. Polimeni.  529 college savings plans enable American families to accumulate funds Federal and state tax free for qualified education expenses.

At the same time, parents and their children appear to be increasingly discerning about their higher education options.  In responding to questions that are new to the CSF survey, 83% of parents said they would like to see colleges and universities promote skills training, rather than majors, to help with future employment.  78% would prefer their child to go to a school taking this approach.

These findings align with results of CSF’s 2018 How Youth Plan to Fund College survey of 500 high school students, showing that 81% of students would like to see colleges promote this, and 70% would like to attend a school taking that approach.

Parents also continued to broaden their definition of higher education beyond the traditional four-year college.  64% said they think about vocational schools and community college in the same way as they do about public and private education – the highest level in the five years since that question has been asked.

Further, 40% of parents said their children had considered not going to college at all, up from 28% last year.  A third of those parents said that their child didn’t want them to be paying that much money; 28% of parents said their child felt that their career choice could be achieved without college; 18% said their child was indifferent to college, and 17% said the child didn’t want student debt.

Ultimately, the vast majority (85%) of parents whose children doubted they’d go to college said the children had decided to go after all. This is a significant uptick from last year’s survey which showed that only 48% of the doubting students would go on to higher ed.

Saving systematically despite student debt

Perhaps a motivator for many parents to save for their children’s higher education is the burden of their own debt, since 45% of parents are still paying off their own loans.  The number is even higher (49%) among those who are saving primarily by using 529 college savings plans.

Parents are also using key strategies such as systematic savings.   78% of all parents are saving regularly, with 51% saving on a monthly, 19% saving on a quarterly, and 8% saving on an annual basis.

In another positive uptick, 42% of parents are saving more than they were a year ago, up from 38%.

Some other high-level findings of the survey:

  • 72% of parents expect their children to contribute to their higher ed costs, through a job (46%) and through their own savings (24%).
  • Having their child living at home was the most popular cost-cutting strategy for 28% of parents, followed by attending community college and transferring to a 4-year college (26%) and getting as many AP and IB courses as possible (14%).
  • 48% of respondents work with a financial advisor, but 74% said they would work with one if that would help with college savings.
  • More than half (57%) of parents plan to borrow to pay for their children’s college, with 62% of them borrowing primarily through education loans, and 18% through credit cards or a credit line cash advance.

The 2018 State of College Savings survey reached nearly 800 parents across the country and income brackets. via Survey Monkey.  The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals.  For an infographic on these findings, please see