High School Students and Their Parents Save For a Broad Range of Higher Education Paths

September 20, 2016

Washington, DC, September 20, 2016 –In recognition of College Savings Month, the College Savings Foundation is releasing an analysis of surveys showing that both parents of high school students and the students themselves are saving for college. In addition, they are both looking at how to apply those funds in ways that benefit the child’s future career and reduce the prospect of student debt. Interestingly parents and students are looking at alternative strategies to simply attending a single four year institution straight out of high school.

“American families are taking a thoughtful approach to saving and planning for college. Higher education decisions are primarily made during a student’s high school years and we see that both parents and students are thinking more broadly about their options,” said CSF Chair Mary Morris.

The comparison of parents’ and students’ survey data shows a striking similarity in savings patterns, with roughly one-third utilizing 529 college savings plans: 32% of parents save in 529 college savings plans; and 30% of high school students report that they or their parents utilize a 529 College Savings Plan.

For both parents and high school students, the lines of communications are open for how they plan to deal with college costs, including students stepping up to take on some responsibility:

  • 92% of parents and 86% of students speak to each other about their responsibilities in paying for college.
  • 80% of parents expect their children to help pay for college and 89% of high schoolers said they would definitely or possibly help.

Parents and students are also in alignment on ways to grapple with escalating costs, including considering less traditional avenues for education and training after high school:

  • From the parents’ perspective, the two closely-ranked top strategies their families use to help reduce the cost of college were to attend community college and then transfer to a four-year college (25%) and to attend a state school rather than a private college (23%).
  • Among the students who had to change their higher education choices due to costs, 65% are choosing community college, and 21% are choosing a vocational or career school.

“We can see that community colleges are playing a larger role in higher education than ever before – both in being affordable and in offering a chance for students to test their career ideas,” Morris added.

Nearly one-third – 28% – of parents said that their high school children had considered not attending college, with the leading reason (31%) that they didn’t want student debt. 62% of students said costs had made them re-consider attending college at all.

Interestingly, those students who altered their higher education decisions to attend a community college or vocational school, made this choice for a number of reasons, including: their career choice doesn’t require a college degree; they see highly successful individuals without a college degree; they are joining the family business; they don’t feel that college will give them the critical skills they need, or they are joining the military.

Despite concern about debt among students and parents, they are each planning to borrow:

  • 44% of parents still plan to borrow funds with education loans as the dominant source (74%).
  • 71% of students said they would borrow or possibly borrow outside of financial aid. Three quarters of them are worried about paying back loans. Most importantly, the parent survey showed that 25% of parents are still paying off their own student loan debt.

The report compares the findings of CSF’s State of College Savings Survey of Parents of 800 parents across the country, with the CSF Youth Survey of 500 high school students across the country.

The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit organization helping American families save for higher education.