Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Cost of college has the attention of more high school students than ever

June 11, 2019

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It doesn’t take a college degree to know money doesn’t grow on trees, which is why it’s no surprise that a new survey of U.S. high school students found them more cautious about the cost of higher education and how it relates to their careers than ever before.

In its 10th annual survey on the topic, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit College Savings Foundation found the highest percentage ever of high school sophomores, juniors and seniors who said costs will be a deciding factor in which college they attend or whether they end up going at all.

This year’s survey of 500 students also found the highest percentage in the survey’s history — 55% — who said they think about technical schools and
career schools in the same way they look at traditional colleges.

“High school students today consider technical schools and career schools on par with a four-year degree,” said Richard Polimeni, chairman of the College Savings Foundation and director of education savings programs at Bank of America in Pennington, N.J. 

“They see technical and career schools as a viable alternative at a substantially less cost and they often come out with a high-paying job,” he said.

Career choices are influential — with 71% with students this year saying their career plans will affect their school choice, up from 63% last year.

But the most significant trend uncovered by the survey was related to the cost of attending college. 

The cost will be the deciding factor for where 83% of high school students choose to attend college, up from 75% who felt that way last year. Also, 75% of those surveyed this year said the cost of college will be the ultimate deciding factor in whether they decide to attend college at all, up from 65% last year.

Student loan debt in 2019 is at an all-time high of $1.6 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.

Higher than credit card debt and automobile debt, student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category behind mortgages. Borrowers in the class of 2017, on average, owe $28,650, according to the Oakland, Calif.-based Institute for College Access and Success.

Half of the students surveyed by the College Savings Foundation had jobs during high school; 89% plan to work during college to help with costs; 19% are choosing a gap year between high school and college; and 66% will use the gap year to work.

“The message is getting out and students are starting to pay attention,” said Mr. Polimeni. “They are concerned about having to pay student debt for 10 or 15 years or more down the road after college.”