College Savings Foundation 2024 Youth Survey: What Gen Z Wants from Higher Ed and How They Will Pay for It

May 2, 2024

Majority of high school students surveyed save and sacrifice for long-term education and career goals

Washington, DC, May 2 – Today’s high schoolers are preparing for adulthood by amping up their plans to save, work and pay for higher education in order to achieve their long-term career goals. 

These are among the findings of the College Savings Foundation’s (CSF) 15th Annual Youth Survey of 1,000 seniors, juniors and sophomores across the country. Across the board, the results point to this generation’s strong saving and work ethic, supported by their willingness to live at home and give up material gifts to fund a stable and promising future (See Infographic of data summary)  

  • More students are saving – and saving more: 57% are saving for higher education, up from 50% last year. 77% of those have saved more than $1,000, including 26% who have saved more than $5,000, up from 17% last year.
  • More students will pay their way:  56% of students plan to pay for all (20%) or part (36%) of higher education costs, up from 48% last year. The biggest part of that increase came from students paying all their costs, up from 15%.
  • More students will work – and work full-time: 80% will work full- or part-time while attending higher education, up from 78%; but significantly 24% plan to work full-time, up from 19% last year.
  • Most students want gifts for education rather than material ones: 73% said they’d opt for gifts for education, up from 69% last year.  Plus, 81% of them want parents to make it easy for gift-givers by providing a link for a 529 contribution. 
  • More students will live at home: 68% plan to live at home, up from 61%, with the vast majority (78%) doing so to save money.

“It’s exciting to see that this upcoming generation is seeing value in the importance of higher education on their lives, and is pursuing smart strategies for funding it,” said Chris McGee, Chair of CSF, a national nonprofit helping families save for education over their lifetimes.

Reflecting the practical characteristic of Gen Z, the cohort of young people born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, 66% of students said their most important goal for higher education was a credential or degree to support their career choice. This was followed by a distant second of “time to explore a career choice” at 24%. 

As tech-savvy youth, 66% of these Gen Z savers said that a mobile app would be important, very important, or extremely important in deciding whether to invest in a 529 education savings plan – with a focus on being able to check balances, tracking progress in saving, and making deposits and withdrawals.  

When it comes to 529s, 35% of all students and parents are using 529s to save for higher education, with 12% of students and 23% of parents taking advantage of the tax-advantaged savings tool. One-in-five (21%) of students and 32% of parents are saving primarily through a 529 plan.

Starting the planning process early

Nearly half, 47%, of students started planning for their higher education choices in 9th and 10th grade, and 31% started in 11th and 12th grade.

85% of students talk to their parents about their involvement in  higher education funding. Yet the most important higher education conversations are about what career path students want to follow (43%), what type of school they want to go to (28%), and how college costs will be paid (18%).

Overall, more parents are also saving for their children’s higher education: 67%, up from 59% last year, with 68% of them amassing at least $5,000, up from 60% last year. Fewer students had to change their higher education choices because of cost, 37%, down from 41% last year; and among those who are, more are shifting to community college.

That said, half of all students are still planning to get financial aid, as with last year; and 58% expect to get an athletic or academic scholarship. 72% will borrow (23%) or possibly borrow (49%). That compares to 67% last year of those borrowing (25%) or possibly borrowing (42%). Of all students, 67% are concerned, somewhat concerned or very concerned about borrowing, on par with last year.

Increased interest in traditional higher education

Last year, the survey asked students how they would design their ideal education. This year most students again wished for classes based on practical experience (85%), credit for work experience (90%) and testing for faster completion (86%).

At the same time, they showed an increased appreciation for traditional college. More students wanted “a more valuable educational credential over the course of my life” (74% up from 70%), the technical and theoretical courses they can only get in traditional institution (63% up from 49% last year), and the experience to create long-term friends and contacts (80% up from 74%).   Even clubs, sports and activities saw an uptick to 75% from 70.5%

Students’ education plans after high school are Public College (43%); Community College (20%); Private College (16%); Technical and Career Education (9%); Workforce Training and Credentialing (3%); Military (3%); Apprenticeship (1%), or other. The CSF 15th Annual Youth Survey of 1,000 high school students across the country was conducted by SurveyMonkey with parental permission . 

Youth Infographic