College Savings Foundation (CSF) 14th Annual Youth Survey of 1,000 Gen Z High School Students

August 1, 2023

High School Students Headed for Higher Ed with Savings and Clarity of Purpose

Gen Zs share their views on what they want for a Higher Education Experience

With an aversion to debt and ambitions for the future, high school students across the U.S. are determined to pay, work and save for their desired higher education goals. Data from the College Savings Foundation’s 14th Annual Youth Survey of 1,000 graduating seniors, juniors and sophomores paint a portrait of a practical, prepared and hopeful generation that is making choices to lower their costs while partnering with their parents who are also saving and using 529 higher education plans to do so.

When asked how they would design their perfect higher education experience, students cited a combination of traditional 4-year college – with valuable educational credentials, long-term friendships, and access to sports and clubs – along with a newer vision of classes that offer real work experience and opportunities to advance their careers.

“CSF is excited to see the enthusiasm these students are showing in planning for higher education. Three years after COVID up-ended student academic and social lives, we are pleased to see reengagement and interest in the benefits of post-secondary education beyond academics to include lifelong connections and a focus on work readiness,” said Vivian Tsai, CSF Chair.

The survey found a decline in the impact of COVID on students’ futures with 17% saying they were changing their higher ed plans because of it, down from 28% last year.

How Gen Z Funds Higher Ed: Saving, Learning and Working

High school students demonstrated a willingness to save and a knowledge of 529 higher education plans that together will help them stave off the pressure of student debt. The following data points to how students intend to fund their higher education paths:


  • Almost half (48%) of all high school students are planning to help pay for some or all of their higher education costs.


  • 50% are saving now.
    • 57% of those are doing so primarily through a savings account, 26% through a job and 15% through a 529.
    • 71% of savers have amassed between $1,000 – $5,000 (54%) or more than $5,000 (17%).


  • 28% of all respondents know what a 529 is, with 20% saying their parents use one and 8% of students saying they do.
  • One-third (34%) of all respondents know that 529s can be used to fund many technical, career, training and apprenticeships.


  • 53% have a job now to help earn money for higher ed costs.
  • 78% plan on working full- (19%) or part-time (58%) while attending higher ed classes.

The Role of Parents and Concern about Debt

Students are highly engaged with their parents in planning for and funding higher education – with an emphasis on their career path:

  • 81% have talked to their parents about their involvement in funding higher education, with the most popular topics being what career path they want to follow (44%) and what kind of school they want to attend (27%).
  • 59% of all parents are saving for their children’s higher education. Of those, 60% have saved more than $5,000; and 36% are saving in 529 higher education savings accounts – up from 21% last year.

The survey also found that many high school students are concerned about student debt and are changing their higher ed choices or taking other steps to avoid it:

  • Among all students, one-in-five (21%) are changing their higher education choices because they don’t want debt.
  • Among all students, the primary course of action to reduce reliance on student loans is: working while attending school (20%), saving more money (18%) and attending community college (14%).
  • 67% are expecting to or will possibly borrow money to pay for higher ed.
  • 67% of all students are very concerned, somewhat concerned or concerned about paying back student loans. 

In a related answer, 41% said they have had to change their higher ed choices due to costs. Of those, 33% are choosing a state school, 29% a community college and 16% a technical and career education.

The Ideal Higher Ed Experience

The survey included questions about both tangible and intangible features of higher education on which the respondents provided input.  Interestingly, the responses reveal students’ strong vision for their higher education that combined benefits of a traditional 4-year college and work-focused classes:

  • 73% said that the traditional college experience will help create long-term friends and contacts for their future; and 70% said it will be a more valuable educational credential over the course of their lives. 71% wanted access to clubs, sports and campus activities.
  • 89% said they wanted:
    • Credit for actual work experience that they would do in conjunction with the higher ed institution.
    • Work through organizations to help place and track their experience and provide information about job opportunities in their chosen careers.
    • Classes that would allow them to take a test once they mastered the material, finish requirements sooner and cost less.
  • 86% wanted classes based on practical work experience.

Other Findings

Among all students, Public College is the top education destination (40%), followed by Community College (19%), Private College (14%) and Technical and Career education (12%).

For those planning to pursue Technical and Career education, 48% of the students are saving for it; and 30% of them and their family members (23% of their parents and 7% of the students) are using a 529 to do so.

College Savings Foundation’s survey of 1,000 high school students across the country was conducted through Survey Monkey with parental permission. The College Savings Foundation (CSF)is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals.