Steve Rosen’s Kids and Money column at the Tribune, “Dream on — Students shed light on ideal college experience” shared findings from CSF’s 14th Annual Youth survey on what high school students want in higher ed, along with how they are working and saving to pay for it.  

August 9, 2023

Kids and Money: Dream on — Students shed light on ideal college experience

When asked about their ideal college experience, high school students responded in a recent survey that it would entail solid degree credentials, greater access to clubs and recreational sports, and opportunities to network, writes Steve Rosen. (Dreamstime/TNS)

How would your high school student envision the ideal college experience?

More rah-rah sports? How about better food and more choices from the student cafeterias plus longer, late-night hours? Do they want heftier financial aid packages, or more study abroad opportunities?

Higher education is rife with massive problems about affordability, staying out of debt, picking a financially strong major and more — all creating potentially negative effects on a students’ ability to graduate with a solid head start in life.

Against that backdrop, the non-profit College Savings Foundation in early August released its 14th annual college savings survey. Among other things, the foundation asked about 1,000 high school students what in their wildest of dreams would their ideal higher education experience look like.

Not surprisingly, students said they would want to come away with solid degree credentials, but also greater access to clubs and recreational sports, and experiences that would build friendships and networking opportunities that would last a lifetime.

One more thing: The foundation said students would also “add pragmatic teeth” to what they’d want from college, with nearly 90 percent saying they’d want credit hours for work experience, more classes that would allow them to test on an ongoing basis once they’ve mastered the material so they can finish (degree) requirements earlier, and help in job placement opportunities.”

That last point brought a chuckle. I’d wager that more college students could point you in the right direction to the student recreation center, or the closest coffee bar. But for the career and job placement center – better check the campus map. Clearly that’s one disconnect that can easily be fixed, starting with orientation week for new students.

Vivian Tsai, chair of the College Savings Foundation, said in a statement that three years after the great pandemic, she was “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.”

It’s the second year in a row that survey participants have spoken loud and clear about their college priorities.

The foundation, which supports 529 college savings plans, also asked high school seniors, juniors and sophomores how they plan to avoid student loan debt and how they and their parents are saving.

Among the survey results:

— 21% of the students said they are considering lower cost options such as public schools, community colleges and technical or trade schools because they don’t want debt.

— 50% of the students are saving — mostly in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $5,000, though 17% had amassed more than $5,000. Unfortunately not a big dent in the college tab. But I’ve alway said every dollar saved means one less dollar borrowed.

On the flip side, 59% of all parents are saving for their children’s higher education. Of those, 60% have saved more than $5,000.

— Nearly one-third of the student respondents know that money in the 529 accounts can be used to pay not just for traditional four-year college but technical schooling and apprenticeships.

— 53% of the students said they have a job to help earn money for college, while nearly 80% plan on working either part-or-full-time while attending school.